4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

1200 to 1300 Timeline


The Suanpan Circa 1200

A scence from the long scroll 'Along the River During Qing Ming Festival,' in which a fifteen column saunpan is visible next to the account book and doctor's prescriptions. (View Larger)

A version of the abacus appeared in China, called suanpan in Chinese. On each rod this abacus had 2 beads on the upper deck and 5 on the lower deck.

The suanpan style of abacus is also referred to as a 2/5 abacus. The 2/5 style survived unchanged until about 1850, at which time the 1/5 (one bead on the top deck and five beads on the bottom deck) abacus appeared.

♦ "In the famous long scroll Along the River During Qing Ming Festival painted by Zhang Zeduan (1085-1145) [a native of Dongwu (present Zhucheng, Shandong)] during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a 15 column suanpan is clearly seen lying beside an account book and doctor's prescriptions on the counter of an apothecary.

"The similarity of the Roman abacus to the Chinese one suggests that one could have inspired the other, as there is some evidence of a trade relationship between the Roman Empire and China. However, no direct connection can be demonstrated, and the similarity of the abaci may be coincidental, both ultimately arising from counting with five fingers per hand. Where the Roman model and Chinese model (like most modern Japanese) has 4 plus 1 bead per decimal place, the old version of the Chinese suanpan has 5 plus 2, allowing less challenging arithmetic algorithms, and also allowing use with a hexadecimal numeral system. Instead of running on wires as in the Chinese and Japanese models, the beads of Roman model run in grooves, presumably making arithmetic calculations much slower.

"Another possible source of the suanpan is Chinese counting rods, which operated with a decimal system but lacked the concept of a zero as a place holder. The zero was probably introduced to the Chinese in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when travel in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East would have provided direct contact with India and Islam allowing them to acquire the concept of zero and the decimal point from Indian and Islamic merchants and mathematicians."

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Beginnings of an Active Book Trade in Europe Outside of Monasteries Circa 1200

Detail of image depicting a monk at work in a medieval scriptorium (Lacroix).  Please click to view entire image.

Detail of a fourteenth century image showing Henry of Germany delivering a lecture to University Students in Bologna by Laurentius de Voltolina in the Liber ethicorum des Henricus de Alemannia, preserved in the Kupferstichkabinett SMPK, Staatliche Museen, Pressiischer Kulturbesitz, Min. 1233. 

Please click to view entire image.

Beginning around the year 1200, monasteries no longer remained the only purchasers of books in Europe, and manuscript book production started moving from the exclusive domain of monastic scriptoria to the secular communities. Intellectual life began to be increasingly centered outside the monasteries at the universities. There scholars, teachers and students, in cooperation with booksellers, artisans and craftsmen, organized an active manuscript book trade.

By the second quarter of the 13th century a much expanded demand for books for individual use encouraged the production of increasing numbers of picture books. Illustrated accounts of the lives of popular saints and other historical characters were typical productions.

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Private Libraries in the Muslim World, Destroyed or Plundered by Crusaders Circa 1200

"So numerous were the private libraries [in the Muslim world] that one writer has estimated that, as of 1200, there were more books in private hands in the Moslem world than in all libraries, public and private, of western Europe." (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 81.)

"Not the least important in the destruction of Islamic libraries were the depredations of the Christian crusaders from the 11th to the 13th centuries. In Syria, Palestine, and parts of North Africa, the Christians destroyed libraries as enthusiastically as had the barbarians in Italy a few hundred years earlier. When Spain was reconquered from the Arabs, the great Islamic libraries at Seville, Cordoba, and Granada were destroyed or carried away by their retreating owners." (Harris 84).

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Knowledge of Greek and Greek Texts During the Middle Ages Circa 1200 – 1450

"Not before the fifteenth century were there large collections of Greek manuscripts assembled in the West, and only from the sixteenth century on were they used by a substantial number of Western scholars and other interested parties. The greater portion of the Greek inventory of the Dominican Library in Basel, the Laurentiana in Florence, the Marciana in Venice, the Vaticana in Rome, the Hapsburg Hofbibliothek in Vienna, and the Bibliothèque du Roi in Paris was first brought together through the combined efforts of Greek emigrants, Latin Humanists, and bibliophile princes. Yet ancient Greek book collections were not inaccessible to the Latin Middle Ages. Greek monasteries, none of which could have been completely without books, flourished in Rome from the seventh to the eleventh century. Grottaferrata has preserved parts of its ancient hoard of Greek books even up to the present day.

"There were populous Latin districts in Constantinople during the high Middle Ages, and in this period a great number of Italian scholars lived in the Christian metropolis on the Bosporus and made use of the rare-book libraries of the city. Moses of Bergamo was one of these scholarly Italians in twelfth-century Constantinople; he is the first Westerner known to have collected Greek manuscripts in great volume. If his own testimony is true, then the hunt for Greek manuscripts began two centuries before Guarino of Verona and Giovanni Aurispa.

"The Greek libraries of southern Italy were even closer to the Latins than those in Constantinople. Casole in Apulia, Carbone in the Basilicata, Stilo in Calabria, and Messina in Sicily had the most notable monastic libraries of the Italo-Greeks; the Cathedral Library of Rossano is still in possession of its cimelia, the famous sixth-century Greek purple evangelary ('Codex purpureus Rossanensis'), which was not 'rediscovered' there by scholars until 1879 and which recalls the significance of southern Italy for the transmission of Greek texts.

"Not before the manuscript research of recent years has the astonishing volume and the high quality (manuscripts of the classics!) of Italo-Greek book production and transmission come to light. Manuscript by manuscript, a 'translatio studii' from Byzantium to the West appears, whose line of textual transmission threads its way directly from the Macedonian Renaissance in tenth-century Constantinople, to the court library of the Norman and Hohenstaufen rulers of southern Italy, to the papal library of 1300; the Italian Renaissance picked up this thread as its starting point.

"This hoard of Greek books first appears in 1295 at the end of a catalogue of the papal library:

'Item Dyonisius super celesticam [!] Ierarchicam [!] in greco. Item Simplicius super phisicam Aristotilis . . .'

"With the exception of Dionysius the Areopagite (characteristically placed at the beginning of the list) and one other work, the twenty-three volumes all contain works of natural science and philosophy—a remarkable collection for the papacy (ed. A. Pelzer, Addenda et emendanda ad Francisci Ehrle Historiae Bibliothecae Romanorum Pontificum ... tomum 1 [Rome 1947], pp. 23 f).

"A catalogue of the papal library from 1311 lists the same stock of Greek books:

'tem libri, qui sequuntur scripti in greco: primo scripsimus comentum Procli Permenidem Platonis 'And' et est in papiro . . . .'

"There have been several changes. In all there are now thirty-three Greek codices; ed. F. Ehrle, Historia Bibliothecae Romanorum Pontificum tum Bonifatianae tum Avenionensis (Rome 1890), I, 95-99. In nineteen of these books one finds this remarkable 'And', for which Ehrle provides the hardly convincing resolution antiquus.

"We learn from an inventory of 1327 that the thirty-three Greek codices were kept in two crates; ed. Pelzer, Addenda et emendanda, p. 34. In 1339 they (all of them?) are found in a single crate together with Hebrew books (ibid., p.64); in 1369 there are still seven Greek books in the papal library (cf. Ehrle, Historia Bibliothecae, pp. 376 [no. 1183], 398 [no. 1512], 429 [no. 2007]. The popes obviously managed to carelessly lose their small but fine Greek collection during their Avignon adventures.

"The enigma of the notation And in the catalogue of 1311 has been solved by August Pelzer in a striking way (Addenda et emendanda, pp. 92 f.): it is to be resolved Andegavensis = Anjou! -that is, these books came to the papal library 'from Anjou.' When did the house of Anjou have cause and opportunity to present the papacy with a collection of Greek books? Pelzer answers: after the battle near Benevento (1266), when Charles of Anjou, whom the papacy had summoned to southern Italy, had disposed of the hated Hohenstaufen King Manfred. Thus the core of the Greek collection of the Norman-Staufer court library came into the possession of the papacy in 1266 in a similar way to that by which the Heidelberg Bibliotheca Palatina did in 1623.

"Codicological research has confirmed Pelzer's brilliant conclusions. Nine of the thirty-three Greek books of the 1311 catalogue have now again been identified, and the findings demonstrate clearly that this could not have been a casual acquisition by the popes or by Anjou, nor was it plunder from the conquest of Constantinople in 1204.; rather the collection came from the court in Constantinople to the court in Palermo around the middle of the twelfth century:

'Ces volumes sont de magnifiques produits des ateliers constantinopolitains au moment de la renaissance scientifique et philosophique des IXe et Xe siècles" ('These volumes are the magnificent products of the ateliers in Constantinople at the moment of the scientific and philosophical renaissance of the ninth and tenth centuries;' (P. Canart, "Le livre grec,' p. 149).

"Almost half of all known scientific 'classical manuscripts' of the Byzantine Renaissance of the ninth/tenth century have been preserved via the Norman-Staufer court library (G. Derenzini, 'All origine della traduzione di opere scientifiche classiche: vicende di testi et di codici tra Bisanzio e Palermo,' Physis 18 [1976], 87-103). Thus the history of the Greek court library in the West extends back into the twelfth century, and the Greek collections in Renaissance court libraries in the West were then not altogether without precedents.

"In the outstanding monastic and cathedral libraries of the Middle Ages, there were, however, at most only scattered Greek manuscripts. The Abbey of St. Martin in Tours possessed, at least in fragments, a Greek papyrus codex from Egypt, which contained a homily of Ephraem Syrus on 'Fair Joseph.' An illuminated Greek copy of the XPICΤΙΑΝΙΚΗ ΤΟΠΟΓΡΑΦΙΑ of Cosmas Indicopleustes has been traced to the collection of the early medieval Cathedral Library in York. Reichenau had a precious Greek Psalter from the eighth to the sixteenth century. The Abbey of St. Denis tended the splendid uncial manuscript of the works of Dionysius the Areopagite which Louis the Pious had obtained from Constantinople; various other Greek manuscripts were added in the high and late Middle Ages. In the monastery of St. Simeon, established in the Porta Nigra in Trier, there was a Greek lectionary of the tenth/eleventh century. In the midst of the Investiture Controversy, the wealthy and ostentatious canons of St. Gereon in Cologne procured a magnificent Greek Psalter, which was written and illuminated around 1077 in a scriptorium closely connected with the Greek emperor. The first illumination, by a Greek artist, shows Ο ΑΓΙΟC ΜΑΡΤΥC ΤΟΥ ΧΡΙCΤΟΥ ΓΕΡΕΩΝ.

"Μany other large libraries of the Middle Ages also had their Greek showpieces to exhibit. Occasionally, the Latin West also produced manuscripts entirely in Greek. In the ninth century, as Montfaucon has noted, Sedulius Scottus was capable of writing a Greek Psalter with odes.

"From the Ottonian period on, Greco-Italian southern Italy offered the opportunity to obtain scribes who were acquainted with the Greek alphabet. A lectionary written in 1021 by an Italo-Greek Εν χόρα Φραγκίας κάστρο δε Κoλoνίας (= Cologne?) later made its way to St. Denis. In England even Western scribes ventured to produce various Greek minuscule manuscripts. According to Μ.R. James, the Greek Psalter of Cambridge, Emmanuel College III. 3. 22 is of English origin.

"In the thirteenth century, Bishop Robert Grosseteste commissioned a large-scale Corpus Dionysiacum in Greek minuscules. Grosseteste, his students, and his assistants brought together, by means of purchasing and copying, a significant collection of Greek manuscripts in England, so that it is true, at least for this country, that interest in Greek books had already arisen in the late Middle Ages; to be sure, it was a narrow circle until Humanism created a broader audience for the purely Greek book.

"The typical medieval form of the Greek codex was the bilingual manuscript. It was an inheritance from late antiquity and the Middle Ages in part made good use of it. The Mediterranean cultural symbiosis of the late Roman Empire had brought forth many such bilinguals-Latino-Greek and Greco-Latin. The most famous examples of late antique Latino-Greek editions are the remnants of the bilingual Vergil codices, recovered from the Egyptian sand; thus far, no less than nine such bilinguals of the champion of the imperial Roman cause have been brought to light. During Justinian's time, it was certainly still possible to write codices in both imperial languages in Constantinople; the Florentine digest codex ('Codex Pisanus,' soon after 533) bears impressive witness to this fact. It seems, however, that the Byzantine Empire of the medieval period proper no longer fostered bilingual editions of Roman authors, and—if southern Italy is excluded—produced no Latino-Greek manuscripts at all. 

"A Greco-Latin Homer, the counterpart of a Latino-Greek Vergil, apparently did not exist in late antiquity. The West was interested in Christian bilinguals, in Greco-Latin editions of portions of the Bible; a Greco-Latin anthology of canon law may have also existed during late antiquity, at least in one copy.

"The Latin Middle Ages carried on the tradition of assorted scriptural bilinguals: the Psalter, Gospels, Pauline epistles, and Acts of the Apostles (in fact those four books of the Bible whose comparative study Ambrogio Traversari recommended for self-instruction in Greek!). It would have been easy for the bilingual tradition of the Acts of the Apostles to have disappeared, as other bilingual scriptural texts must have: the tradition has only two witnesses-the 'Codex Bezae' in Cambridge and the 'Codex Laudianus' in Oxford.

"The Carolingian period transmitted only the Psalter, Gospels, and Pauline epistles, to some extent in the new interlinear bilingual form, which was especially cultivated by the Irish.

"In the Ottonian period, the bilingual tradition of the Pauline epistles dies out. The fragmentary 'Codex Waldeccensis' (saec. X ex. ) completes the circle of this bilingual tradition of the Middle Ages, in which the beginning and end are joined; for this bilingual manuscript, the last of the Pauline epistles known from the Middle Ages, is an exact copy of the earliest manuscript—the 'Codex Claromontanus.'

"The production of bilingual texts of the Gospels is extraordinarily rare in the high and late Middle Ages. Yet a bilingual edition of the Apocalypse curiously surfaces at that period. The Greco-Latin Psalter reached the age of Humanism, however, in an unbroken tradition. This Greco-Latin text outlasted all else because it was the text with which the Latin Middle Ages was doubtless most intimately familiar and was thus better suited than any other text to introduce the Latins to a basic study of Greek. This tradition of the Greco-Latin Psalter manuscripts, which span the entire Middle Ages, from the Cod. Verona I (saec. VI- VII) to the Cod. Plut. XVII 13 of the Biblioteca Laurenziana (which was "erst wenige Jahre alt, als in Florenz das große Unionskonzil begann" ["only a few years old as the great Union Council began in Florence"]), and to the great trilingual (Hebreo-Greco-Latin) Psalter produced for Duke Federigo of Urbino in Florence in 1473,  presents scarcely touched material for the further investigation of Greek studies in the Latin Middle Ages.

"The Greek text is presented in various manners in these Psalters: in Greek script (generally majuscule) or in Roman transcription; the Greek and Latin texts on facing pages, in parallel columns, or arranged interlinearly. The base text (left page, left column, or principal line in interlinear versions) is generally Greek. The Psalters in which the Greek text is presented only in Roman transcription must have originally served primarily liturgical purposes: Greek liturgica were always written in the Roman alphabet in the West, since they were to be read or sung aloud and were not intended to be studied. On the other hand, manuscripts with the Greek text written in Greek script were textbooks or even showpieces. The possibilities for combination are numerous and the distinctions between them fluid: even such an obvious example of a textbook as the St. Gall psalterium quadrupartitum presented the Greek text only in Roman transcription. In general, each of the numerous bilingual Psalters of the Middle Ages requires its own particular historico-philological interpretation.

"The other Greco-Latin books of the Middle Ages may be regarded as offshoots from the main trunk of bilingual biblical texts: in the sixth century, bilinguals of the first four ecumenical councils by Dionysius Exiguus; in the eleventh century, Gregory's Dialogi; in the thirteenth century, the liturgical and polemical bilinguals of Abbot Nicholas-Nectarius of Otranto. The Dominican mission in the 'Orient' continued this latter tradition and produced its controversial theological tracts in bilingual editions ('Bartholomaeus, Contra Graecos; Buonaccorsi, Thesaurus veritatis fidei). Leontius Pilatus' translations of Homer and Euripides for the early Florentine Humanists were designed as interlinear bilinguals.

"Finally, one must not forget the striking bilingualism of the imperial correspondence from Constantinople, of which a number of splendid examples from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries have been preserved in Italian archives. When the corpus of manuscripts has finally been fully catalogued, the history of the Greco-Latin bilinguals will open one of the most informative perspectives on the ever-shifting interest in Greek texts that has perished through the ages" (Walter Berschin, "Valuation and Knowledge of Greek," Greek Letters and the Latin Middle Ages. From Jerome to Nicholas of Cusa. Transl. by Jerold C. Frakes [1992]).

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Postal System within the Mongol Empire and China Circa 1200

About 1200 the Genghis KhanGreat Khan (emperor) of the Mongol Empire, installed an empire-wide messenger and postal station system named Örtöö within the Mongol Empire. During the Yuan Dynasty under Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, this system also covered the territory of China. Postal stations were used not only for the transmission and delivery of official mail, but were also available for traveling officials, military men, and foreign dignitaries. These stations aided and facilitated the transport of foreign and domestic tribute, and trade in general. 

By the end of Kublai Khan's rule there were more than 1,400 postal stations in China alone, which in turn had at their disposal about 50,000 horses, 1,400 oxen, 6,700 mules, 400 carts, 6,000 boats, over 200 dogs and 1,150 sheep. The postal stations were 15 to 40 miles apart, and had reliable attendants. Couriers reaching postal stations would be provided food, shelter and spare horses. It was estimated that couriers could travel 20-30 miles per day. Foreign observers, such as Marco Polo attested to the efficiency of this early postal system.

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Production of Medieval Manuscript Codices: a Video Circa 1200

In 2010 the Getty Museum uploaded a video to YouTube that explains the basics of making a medieval manuscript book, from the production of parchment, preparing the parchment for writing, folding the parchment into quires, the making of quill pens and ink, ruling the parchment pages for writing, writing the text, creating illuminations, sewing the gatherings onto cords, attaching the cords to covers, covering the covers and finishing the binding:

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Fibonacci Introduces Arabic Numerals to the European Public and Describes the Fibonacci Sequence 1202

Folio 124r of the Codex magliabechiano, a manuscript of Liber Abaci preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze. (View Larger)

In 1202 Leonardo of Pisa (Leonardo Pisano) later known by his nickname Fibonacci, wrote Liber Abaci or The Book of the Abacus or The Book of Calculation. In Liber Abaci Fibonacci introduced Arabic numerals to the European public. These Fibonacci had learned while in Africa with his father who wanted him to become a merchant.

"Liber Abaci was not the first Western book to describe Arabic numerals, but by addressing tradesmen rather than academics, it was the book that convinced the public of the superiority of the new system. The first section introduces the Arabic numeral system. The second section presents examples from commerce, such as conversions of currency and measurements, and calculations of profit and interest. The third section discusses a number of mathematical problems. One example, describing the growth of a population of rabbits, was the origin of the Fibonacci sequence for which the author is most famous today. The fourth section derives approximations, both numerical and geometrical, of irrational numbers such as square roots. The book also includes Euclidean geometric proofs and a study of simultaneous linear equations."

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The First Recorded Designs of a Programmable Automaton 1206

In his al-Jāmiʿ bain al-ʿilm wa al-ʿamal al-nāfiʿ fī ṣināʿat al-ḥiyal (The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices) written in 1206, the year of his death, Muslim polymath, inventor, mechanical engineer, craftsman, artist, mathematician and astronomer Badi'al-Zaman Abū al-'Izz ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī ( بديع الزمان أَبُو اَلْعِزِ بْنُ إسْماعِيلِ بْنُ الرِّزاز الجزري‎, Turkish: Ebû’l İz İbni İsmail İbni Rezzaz El Cezerî) from Jazirat ibn Umar (current Cizre,Turkey) described and illustrated the first recorded designs of a programmable automaton and a set of humanoid automata.

"al-Jazari created a musical automaton, which was a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties. Professor Noel Sharkey has argued that it is quite likely that it was an early programmable automata and has produced a possible reconstruction of the mechanism; it has a programmable drum machine with pegs (cams) that bump into little levers that operated the percussion. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns if the pegs were moved around. According to Charles B. Fowler, the automata were a 'robot band' which performed "more than fifty facial and body actions during each musical selection" (Wikipedia article on al-Jazari, accessed 12-19-2011).

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al-Jazari's Clocks: Perhaps the Earliest Programmable Analog Computer 1206

A depiction of the Castle Water Clock from al-Jazari's 'Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices.' This manuscript is preserved at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. (View Larger)

In the al-Jāmiʿ bain al-ʿilm wa al-ʿamal al-nāfiʿ fī ṣināʿat al-ḥiyal (The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices) written in 1206, the year of his death, Muslim polymath, engineer and inventor Badi'al-Zaman Abū al-'Izz ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī (بديع الزمان أَبُو اَلْعِزِ بْنُ إسْماعِيلِ بْنُ الرِّزاز الجزري‎, Turkish: Ebû’l İz İbni İsmail İbni Rezzaz El Cezerî) from Jazirat ibn Umar (current Cizre,Turkey), described 100 mechanical devices, about 80 of which were trick vessels of various kinds, along with instructions on how to construct them. These included his elephant clock, scribe clock, and castle clock. The castle clock, a most sophisticated water-powered astronomical clock, has been called the earliest programmable analog computer. 

"It was a complex device that was about 11 feet high, and had multiple functions alongside timekeeping. It included a display of the zodiac and the solar and lunar orbits, and a pointer in the shape of the crescent moon which travelled across the top of a gateway, moved by a hidden cart and causing automatic doors to open, each revealing a mannequin, every hour. It was possible to re-program the length of day and night everyday in order to account for the changing lengths of day and night throughout the year, and it also featured five robotic musicians who automatically play[ed] music when moved by levers operated by a hidden camshaft attached to a water wheel. Other components of the castle clock included a main reservoir with a float, a float chamber and flow regulator, plate and valve trough, two pulleys, crescent disc displaying the zodiac, and two falcon automata dropping balls into vases" (Wikipedia article on Al-Jazari, accessed 04-02-2009).

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Origins of Cambridge University 1209

The coat of arms belonging to Cambridge University. (View Larger)

Though early foundation documents no longer exist, the University of Cambridge probably grew out of an association of scholars who gathered at the ancient Roman trading post of Cambridge in 1209. These scholars fled from the University of Oxford to Cambridge after a fight with local townsmen in Oxford.

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The Magna Carta is Promulgated and Distributed January 1215 – 1217

A 1297 copy of the Magna Carta. (View Larger)

In January 1215 a group of English barons demanded a charter of liberties and protection against arbitrary behavior by King John. Receiving no satisfaction, in May the barons took up up arms and captured London. To resolve the dispute on June 10 both parties met and held negotiations at Runnymede, a meadow by the River Thames. Concessions made by King John were outlined in a document known as the "Articles of the Barons", to which the King's great seal was attached, and on June 19 the barons renewed their oaths of allegiance to the King. At the same time the royal chancery produced a formal royal grant, based on the agreements reached at Runnymede, which became known as Magna Carta (Great Charter).

According to contemporary chronicles, copies were sent out from the royal chancery to bishops, sheriffs and others throughout the land; however, the exact number of copies distributed is unknown. Four copies of the original Magna Carta grant survive: two from the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton are preserved in the British Library., and others in the archives of Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral. On February 2, 2015 all four of the original copies of the Magna Carta were united for the first time for an exhibition at the British Library.

In 1217 the Magna Carta was officially published with changes and distributed throughout the kingdom. Of those published copies 17 survive, of which 4 are preserved in the Bodleian Library Oxford:

The original text of Magna Carta was first printed from one of the Cottonian copies roughly 500 years later, in 1733, perhaps to safeguard the text. In 1731 one of Cotton's copies had been damaged in a fire which destroyed other manuscripts from Cotton's library then stored at Ashburnham House. The first edition of 1733 was engraved and printed on vellum as a facsimile of the original by John Pine, an engraver and publisher of prints and illustrated books.

In July 2014 a virtual copy of Magna Carta was available from the British Library at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 02-05-2015.)

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The Greatest Destruction of Muslim Libraries 1218 – 1220

A bust of Genghis Khan. (View Larger)

"The greatest destruction [of Muslim libraries] resulted from the raids of the Mongols in the 13th century. From the mountains and steppes of central Asia came the hordes of Genghis Khan, conquering and destroying everything before them. In the first great sweep to the Caspian Sea and northern Persia, the cities of Bokhara [Bukhara], Samarkand, and Merv [and their libraries] were destroyed along with many smaller towns. . . . (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 84-85).

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The Most Important Law Book of the German Middle Ages 1220 – 1235

Two pages from the Heidelberg Sachsenspiegel. (View Larger)

One of the first prose works in the Low German (Middle Saxon) language, The Sachsenspiegel("Saxon Mirror"),  is the most important law book and legal code of the German Middle Ages. "Written ca. 1220 as a record of existing law, it was used in parts of Germany until as late as 1900, and is important not only for its lasting effect on German law, but also as an early example of written German prose, as the first large legal document to be written in German, instead of Latin. A Latin edition is known to have existed, but only fragmented chapters remain."

"Four (of the original seven) illuminated manuscript copies are still extant. They are named after their present locations: Heidelberg, Oldenburg, Dresden, and Wolfenbüttel, and date from about 1300 to 1370."

"The Sachsenspiegel is believed to have been compiled and translated from Latin by the Saxon administrator Eike von Repgow at the behest of his liege lord Graf Hoyer von Falkenstein in the years 1220 to 1235. Where the original was compiled is unclear. It was thought to have been written at Burg Falkenstein, but Peter Landau, an expert in medieval canon law recently suggested that it may have been written at the monastery of Altzelle (now Altzella).

"The Sachsenspiegel served as a model for law books in German (Middle High German) like the Augsburger Sachsenspiegel, the Deutschenspiegel, and the Schwabenspiegel. Its influence extended into Eastern Europe, the Netherlands, and the Baltic States." (quotations from the Wikipedia article on the Sachsenspiegel, accessed 11-23-2008).

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First Recorded Issue of Paper Money in the Mongol Empire 1224 – 1227

The first recorded issue of paper money in the Mongol Empire. "From 1260, when Kublai Khan completed the conquest of China and took the title of emperor, the issue of paper money became a settled and permanent feature of the Mongol government's financial policy. . . . Records have been preserved showing year by year the amount of notes issued through Kublai's reign and that of his successors for ninety-seventy years (1260-1356)" (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed [1955] 107).

"Paper money was the first form of Chinese printing met with by European travelers, was independently discussed by at least eight pre-Renaissance European writers, and, so far as is known, is the only form of Chinese printing described in European writings of pre-Gutenberg days. Marco Polo's description is the most detailed" (Carter, op. cit., 109).

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Perhaps the Oldest State-Supported University June 5, 1224

The University of Naples Federico II was founded by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II on 5 June 1224. It may be the oldest state-supported institution of higher education and research in the world.

"Frederick II had a precise political project when he stated to found the university in Naples: first, to train administrative and bureaucracy skilled professionals for the "curia regis" (the kingdom ministries and governance apparatus), also it was necessary to prepare lawyers and judges who would help the sovereign in order to draft laws and executing justice; secondly he wanted to facilitate the promising young students and scholars in their cultural formation, avoiding their unnecessary and expensive trips abroad (that is also more pragmatically to say that by creating a State University, emperor Frederick avoided that young students of his reign will complete their trainining at University of Bologna which was a city hostile to the imperial power). The University of Naples was arguably the first to be formed from scratch by a higher authority, rather than upon an already-existing private school. Although its claim to be the first state-sponsored university can be challenged by Palencia (which was founded by the Castilian monarch c.1212), Naples was certainly the first chartered one.

"The artificiality of its creation posed great difficulties in attracting students (Thomas Aquinas was one of the few who came in these early years). The university's early years were further complicated by the long existence, in nearby Salerno of Europe's most prestigious medical faculty, the Schola Medica Salernitana. The fledgling faculty of medicine at Naples had little hope to compete with it, and in 1231, the right of examination was surrendered to Salerno. The establishment of new faculties of theology and law under papal sponsorship in Rome in 1245 further drained Naples of students, as Rome was a more attractive location. In an effort to revitalize the dwindling university, in 1253, all the remaining schools of the university of Naples moved to Salerno, in the hope of creating a single viable university for the south.But that experiment failed and the university (minus medicine) moved back to Naples in 1258 (in some readings, Naples was "refounded" in 1258 by Manfred Hohenstaufen, as by this time there were hardly any students left). The Angevin reforms after 1266 and the subsequent decline of Salerno gave the University of Naples a new lease on life and put it on a stable, sustainable track" (Wikipedia article on University of Naples Federico II, accessed 01-24-2012).

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The Earliest Known Classical Latin Piece Written on Paper Circa 1225

An Introduction to a commentary on Cicero, De amicitia (On Friendship) preserved in the Bodleian Library (Ms. Hatton 112, fols. 58-78), is "the earliest known example of a Latin classical piece written on paper" (Hunt, R.W. The Survival of Ancient Literature, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, no. 133). It was written in a hand that might be French or English in the early thirteenth century, and is bound in the volume after a collection of medical and astronomical treatises,

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No Fewer than Twelve Libraries Available to the Public in Merv 1228

The Greater Kyz Kala at Merv, presumed to be the residence of a noble or royal personage. (View Larger)

In 1228 the geographer Yakut al-Hamawi, visiting Merv, a major oasis-city in Central Asia, on the Silk Road, located near today's Mary in Turkmenistan, "found no fewer than twelve libraries there available to the public. Ten were endowed libraries and two were in mosques. One had over 12,000 volumes in codex form and another had been in existence since 494 A.D. Yakut noted that the lending policies of the libraries in Merv were so liberal that he was able to have 200 volumes to work with in his rooms at one time." (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 79).

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Introduction of the Pecia System April 4, 1228

The earliest dated evidence of the pecia system of providing "certified texts" of manuscripts in university bookstores is the Vercelli contract of 1228. This coincided with the foundation of the university at Vercelli, which was "the world's first university funded by public money": 

" 'Item habebit commune Vercellarum duos exemplatores, quibus taliter providebit quod eos scolare habere possint, qui habeant exemplantia [exemplaris?] in utroque iure et in Theologia compretentia et correctam tam in text quam in gloxa, ita quod solutio fiat a scolaribus pro exemplis secundum quod convenit ad taxationem Rectorum' ('Item, the commune of Vercelli will provide two exemplatores who are to have exemplaria in both laws and in theology, complete and correct both in text and gloss, so that the scholars may pay for their copies at a price set by the rectors'). This contract was signed on 4 April 1228 between certain masters of the University of Padua who wished to secede from that university and representatives of the commune of Vercelli, who were ready to bid generously in privileges to attract a new university to their city. The University of Padua was then only six years old and it is not credible that in such a short space of time the pecia could have been created there. The University of Padua was formed in 1222 by a secession from the University of Bologna, and it seems to be plain that it was in that older university that the pecia system had its origin about the year 1200.

"The spread of the system

"The pecia system existed in at least eleven universities: at Bologna [founded 1088], Padua [founded 1222], Vercelli, Perugia (founded in 1308), Treviso (1318) and Florence (1349) in Northern Italy: at Salamanca [founded 1134] in Spain (1254) and Naples in Southern Italy (1224); at Paris [founded 1257] and Toulouse [founded 1229] in France; and at Oxford. No trace of it has been found at Salerno, Montpellier, Orléans, Angers, Avignon or Cambridge, or in any of the German or Dutch universities. Actual exemplaria and pecia copies were identified by Destrez from Bologna, Paris, Oxford and Naples, but none from the other seven universities have yet been recognised; and we only know that they provided for the pecia system in their statutes" (Pollard, "The pecia system in the medieval universities," Parkes & Watson, editors, Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts & Libraries. Essays Presented to N.R. Ker [1978] 147-48).

"Generally speaking, the purpose of the system was to provide reliable copies of the works of contemporary scholastic authors in law, theology, philosophy and pastoral aids, and it worked somewhat as follows. A university bookseller (stationarius) would obtain an autograph copy of an author's work, or, if that were hard to read (or if the author were long dead), a fair copy or other reliable exemplar of the work. From this exemplar the stationer made a copy or exemplar of his own on equal quires or pieces (peciae), each one of which was numbered in sequence, so that the stationer, when requested for copies of the text in question, could hire out these pieces in turn for copying to professional writers. . . ." (L. E. Boyle, Peciae, Apopeciae, and a Toronto MS. of the Sententia Libri Ethicorum of Aquinas, in Ganz (ed.) The Role of the Book in Medieval Culture [1986] 71).

The standard and extensively illustrated monograph on the pecia system remains Destrez, La pecia dans les manuscrits universitaires du XIIIe et du XIVe siècle (1935). This reproduces manuscript pages full-size, which is helpful since the pecia marks are small, and might be illegible if the images were reduced: 

"PECIA (var. : petiapechiapesiapeçapecca ; vieux français piecepiès, etc) : L’exemplar est copié, suivant la longueur de l’ouvrage, sur une série plus ou moins grande de cahiers de quatre folios, non reliés, mais laissés indépendants les uns des autres, et dont chacun est appelé unepecia. Primitivement, le mot pecia est probablement un terme de tannerie ou de parcheminerie ; c’est une peau de mouton préparée en vue de l’écriture. Par extension, le morceau ou la feuille de parchemin la plus grande que l’on puisse obtenir de cette pièce, quand on en a rogné les parties extérieures inutilisables, s’appelle aussi une pièce : pecia. Cette feuille est rabattue sur elle-même, puis pliée en deux ; le cahier ainsi obtenu correspond sensiblement à notre format moderne in-4.0 jésus . . . ; c’est un binion, il a deux feuilles doubles, soit huit pages, seize colonnes. On lui donne le nom de pecia. Le mot pecia, pièce, désigne donc dans l ‘industrie du livre, . . . l’unité de cahiers dont se compose l’exemplar" (Destrez, pp. 5-6).

In December 2014 a very useful illustrated summary of the system, including a comprehensive bibliography, and reproductions of several examples of pecia marks, was available in Jean-Luc Deuffic's Bibliologie Médiévale blog at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 12-15-2014.)

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The Largest Extant Medieval Manuscript: The Devil's Bible 1229

The Cover of Codex Gigas: 92cm tall, 50 cm wide. (View Larger)

The largest extant medieval manuscript, the Codex Gigas, or Giant Codex, was created in the early 13th century in the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice in Bohemia (now Czech Republic).  It is also known as the Devil's Bible due to its full-page illumination depicting the devil, and the legend surrounding its creation.

". . .  . At 92 cm (36.2in.) tall, 50 cm (19.7in.) wide and 22 cm (8.6in.) thick it is the largest known medieval manuscript. It initially contained 320 vellum sheets, though eight of these were subsequently removed. It is unknown who removed the pages or for what purpose but it seems likely that they contained the monastic rules of the Benedictin es. The codex weighs nearly 75 kg (165 lbs.) and the vellum is composed of calf skin (or donkey according to some sources) from 160 animals.

A side-view of Codex Gigas, which is 22cm thick. (View Larger)

"The Codex includes the entire Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, except for the books of Acts and Revelation, which are from a pre-Vulgate version. Also included are Isidore of Seville's encyclopedia Etymologiae, Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, Cosmas of Prague's Chronicle of Bohemia, various tractates (from history, etymology and physiology), a calendar with necrologium, a list of brothers in Podlažice monastery, magic formulae and other local records. The entire document is written in Latin. Illustration of the devil, page 290. Legend has it the codex was created by a monk who sold his soul to the devil.

The famous Devil, on folio 290r of the Codex Gigas, responsible for the ominous epithet, 'Devil's Bible.' (View Larger)

"The manuscript includes illuminations in red, blue, yellow, green and gold. Capital letters are elaborately illuminated, frequently across the entire page. The codex has a unified look as the nature of the writing is unchanged throughout, showing no signs of age, disease or mood on the part of the scribe. This may have led to the belief that the whole book was written in a very short time. But scientists are starting to believe and research the theory that it took over 20 years to complete" (Wikipedia article on Codex Gigas, accessed 04-07-2009).

Records in the manuscript end in the year 1229. The codex was later pledged to the Cistercians Sedlec monastery and then bought by the Benedictine monastery in Břevnov. From 1477-1593 it was kept in the library of a monastery in Broumov until it was taken to Prague in 1594 to form a part of the collections of Holy Roman Emperior Rudolf II

In 1648, at the end of the Thirty Years' War, the collection of Rudolf II was plundered by the Swedish army.  Since 1649  the manuscript has been preserved in the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm.

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Le Roman de la Rose: A Medieval Best Seller Circa 1230 – 1275

Folio 1r of Fr. 1573 at the Bibliotheque Nationale, the earliest extant copy of 'Le Roman de la Rose.' (View Larger)

Around the year 1230 French scholar and poet Guillaume de Lorris wrote the first section (4058 lines) of Le Roman de la Rose (Romance of the Rose), a book-length poem in Old French, in which the narrator enters a dream world and falls in love with a Rose—an allegorical representation of a young woman. During his pursuit he instructs readers on the art of courtly love, with frequent bawdy comments and detours into alchemy and astronomy. Le Roman de la Rose became one of the best-sellers of the Middle Ages, of which at least 270 medieval manuscripts survive— many illuminated— from the 13th to 16th centuries. The earliest, dating close after the completion of the work, is in the Bibliothèque national de France (BnF fr. 1573).

The Roman de la Rose Digital Library, a joint project of the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University and the Bibliothèque nationale, intended to make virtual copies of at least 150 of the extant manuscripts of this work available with page turner software.

de Lorris' ". . . part of the story is set in a walled garden or locus amoenus, one of the traditional topoi of epic and chivalric literature. In this walled garden, the interior represents romance, while the exterior stands for everyday life. It is unclear whether Lorris considered his version to be incomplete, but it was generally viewed as such.

"Around 1275, Jean de Meun composed an additional 17,724 lines. Jean's discussion of love is considered more philosophical and encyclopedic, but also more misogynistic and bawdy. The writer Denis de Rougemont felt that the first part of the poem portrayed Rose as an idealised figure, while the second part portrayed her as a more physical and sensual being " (Wikipedia article on Roman de la Rose, accessed 12-30-2008).

"The date of this second part is generally fixed between 1268 and 1285 by a reference in the poem to the death of Manfred and Conradin, executed in 1268 by order of Charles of Anjou (d. 1285) who is described as the present king of Sicily. M. F. Guillon (Jean Clopinel, 1903), however, considering the poem primarily as a political satire, places it in the last five years of the 13th century. Jean de Meun doubtless edited the work of his predecessor, Guillaume de Lorris, before using it as the starting-point of his own vast poem, running to 19,000 lines. The continuation of Jean de Meun is a satire on the monastic orders, on celibacy, on the nobility, the papal see, the excessive pretensions of royalty, and especially on women and marriage. Guillaume had been the servant of love, and the exponent of the laws of "courtoisie"; Jean de Meun added an "art of love," exposing with brutality the vices of women, their arts of deception, and the means by which men may outwit them. Jean de Meun embodied the mocking, sceptical spirit of the fabliaux. He did not share in current superstitions, he had no respect for established institutions, and he scorned the conventions of feudalism and romance. His poem shows in the highest degree, in spite of the looseness of its plan, the faculty of keen observation, of lucid reasoning and exposition, and it entitles him to be considered the greatest of French medieval poets. He handled the French language with an ease and precision unknown to his predecessors, and the length of his poem was no bar to its popularity in the 13th and 14th centuries. Part of its vogue was no doubt because the author, who had mastered practically all the scientific and literary knowledge of his contemporaries in France, had found room in his poem for a great amount of useful information and for numerous citations from classical authors" (Wikipedia article on Jean de Meun, accessed 12-29-2008).

"At least 270 manuscripts and manuscript fragments of the Roman de la Rose survive from the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. These works are kept mainly in European libraries, and most remain in France where the majority of these books were produced. Thirty Rose manuscripts are now in different repositories in the US, including the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (Walters 143), the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (Ludwig XV7) and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York (Morgan 948).

"There are also several Rose manuscripts in private collections, two of which are part of the Rose Digital Library (Cox Macro Rose and Ferrell Rose); two are now owned by Senshu University in Japan (Senshu 2 and Senshu 3) and can also be found on this site. One of the oldest surviving Rose texts is a manuscript now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (BnF fr. 1573), made in the late 13th century, not long after Jean de Meun finished his section of the poem. Two early illustrated texts of the Rose are Paris, BnF, fr. 378 and Paris, BnF, fr. 1559. Both of these date from the late 13th century as well. The last illustrated Roman de la Rose manuscript is the Morgan Rose. With 107 miniatures, this late work was produced c. 1520, after the first printed editions of the Rose text had already come out, around the turn of the 16th century (Rosenwald 396 and Rosenwald 917).

"Many Rose manuscripts are illustrated, some with large cycles of miniatures, and lavishly painted with gold and colored pigments. Others are unillustrated and represent a less costly undertaking. In a number of these manuscripts spaces were left for illustrations that were never begun, possibly because the bookmakers ran out of time, or because the patron ran out of money" (Keefe, Manuscripts of the Rose Digital Library, accessed 12-30-2008).

The well-known novel and film by Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (1980), alludes to the literary tradition of Le Roman de la Rose.

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The Song of the Nibelungs Circa 1230

Folio 1r of the 'C' manuscript of the Nibelungenlied. (View Larger)

The Nibelungenlied (translated as The Song of the Nibelungs), an epic poem in Middle High German, told of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild's revenge. It was based on pre-Christian Germanic heroic motifs (the "Nibelungensaga"), which included oral traditions and reports based on historic events and individuals from the 5th and 6th centuries.

"The poem in its various written forms was lost by the end of the 16th century, but manuscripts from as early as the 13th century were re-discovered during the 18th century. There are thirty-five known manuscripts of the Nibelungenlied and its variant versions. Eleven of these manuscripts are essentially complete. The oldest version however seems to be the one preserved in manuscript "B". Twenty-four manuscripts are in various fragmentary states of completion, including one version in Dutch (manuscript 'T'). The text contains approximately 2,400 stanzas in 39 Aventiuren. The title under which the poem has been known since its discovery is derived from the final line of one of the three main versions, "hie hât daz mære ein ende: daz ist der Nibelunge liet" ("here the story takes an end: this is the lay of the Nibelungs"). Liet here means lay, tale or epic rather than simply song, as it would in Modern German.

"The manuscript sources deviate considerably from one another. Philologists and literary scholars usually designate three main genealogical groups for the entire range of available manuscripts, with two primary versions comprising the oldest known copies: *AB and *C. This categorization derives from the signatures on the *A, *B, and *C manuscripts as well as the wording of the last verse in each source: "daz ist der Nibelunge liet" or "daz ist der Nibelunge nôt". Nineteenth century philologist Karl Lachmann developed this categorisation of the manuscript sources in Der Nibelunge Noth und die Klage nach der ältesten Überlieferung mit Bezeichnung des Unechten und mit den Abweichungen der gemeinen Lesart (Berlin: Reimer, 1826).

"Prevailing scholarly theories strongly suggest that the written Nibelungenlied is the work of an anonymous poet from the area of the Danube between Passau and Vienna, dating from about 1180 to 1210, possibly at the court of Wolfger von Erla, the bishop of Passau (in office 1191–1204). Most scholars consider it likely that the author was a man of literary and ecclesiastical education at the bishop's court, and that the poem's recipients were the clerics and noblemen at the same court" (Wikipedia article on Nibelungenlied, accessed 08-02-2009).

♦ In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript "C", preserved in the Badische LandesBibliothek, was available at this link

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The Portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt Circa 1230

Villard's schematic illustration of a perpetual-motion machine. Folio 1 of Fr.19093 preserved at the Bibliotheque Nationale. (View Larger)

The portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt, preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (MS Fr. 19093), consists of 33 sheets of parchment containing about 250 drawings.

Villard's portfolio ". . . appears to be a model-book, with a wide range of religious and secular figures suitable for sculpture, and architectural plans, elevations and details, ecclesiastical objects and mechanical devices, with copious annotations. Other subjects such as animals and human figures also appear.

"Among the devices Villard sketched is a perpetual-motion machine, a mill-driven saw, a number of automata, one of which depicts a simple escapement mechanism, the first known in the west, lifting devices, war engines as well as a number of anatomical, architectural and geometric sketches for portraiture and architecture.

"Villard apparently traveled through many of the cathedral building-sites in 13th century France and recorded in his sketchbook in great detail work in construction. Of particular interest are drawings of the Laon cathedral bell towers and the Reims cathedral nave being built, which provide a valuable clue for building techniques of High Gothic architecture" (Wikipedia article on Villard de Honnecourt, accessed 08-20-2009).

"Who Villard was, and what he did, must be postulated from his drawings and the textual addenda to them on 26 of the 66 surfaces of the 33 leaves remaining in his portfolio. In these sometimes enigmatic inscriptions Villard gave his name twice (Wilars dehonecort [fol. 1v]; Vilars dehoncort [fol. 15r]), but said nothing of his occupation and claimed not a single artistic creation or monument of any type. He addressed his portfolio, which he termed a 'book,' to no one in particular, saying (fol. 1v) that it contained 'sound advice on the techniques of masonry and on the devices of carpentry . . . and the techniques of representation, its features as the discipline of geometry commands and instructs it.' . . . .

"During a period of perhaps five to fifteen years, Villard made sketches of things he found interesting. At some unknown time in his life, he decided to make his drawings available to an unspecified audience. He arranged them in the sequence he wished, and then inscribed certain of them, or had them inscribed. These inscriptions are all by one professional scribal hand, and fit around the drawings with some care. The language is the basically the Picard dialect of Old French, with some Central French forms rather than Picard forms used consistently, for example, ces and ceus rather than ches and cheus. Occasionally, the different dialects exist side by side: on fol. 32r both the Picard chapieles and Central French capieles, 'chapels,' are found. The inscriptions vary in nature, some being explanations (e.g., fol. 6r: "Of such appearance was the sepulchre of a Saracen I saw one time"), others being instructions (e.g., fol. 30r: 'If you wish to make the strong device one calls a trebuchet, pay attention here').

"The Villard portfolio was rediscovered and first published in the mid-19th century during the height of the Gothic Revival movement in France and England. For this reason, Villard's architectural drawings, which comprise only about 16% of the total, attracted the greatest attention. This led writers to conclude that he was an architect, an assumption based on a fundamental error: the practical, stereotomical formulas on fols.20r and 20v were taken as proof that Villard was a trained mason, and it was not discovered until 1901 that these drawings and their inscriptions are by a later hand.

"Since the 1970s there has been growing suspicion that Villard was not an architect or mason. It has been proposed that he may have been 'a lodge clerk with a flair for drawing' or that his training may have been in metalworking rather than in masonry. The question is not yet resolved, but it may no longer be automatically assumed that he was a mason. It may be that Villard was not a professional craftsman of any type, but simply an inquisitive layman who had an opportunity to travel widely and took the seemingly unusual step of recording some of the things he saw during his travels" (Carl F. Barnes, Jr., "Villard de Honecourt," MacMillian Dictionary of Art, 32 (1996),  569-571).

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Finding Devices Developed During This Time Are Perhaps the Most Significant in the History of the Book Circa 1230 – 1300

"As the professions, law, theology, and medicine took form in the thirteenth century, each with their own curriculum and text books, each developed its particular vocabulary and special abbreviations for them. Of the many features that emerged, the various finding devices made necessary by the length and density of legal and theological works are perhaps the most significant in the history of the book. Some are things we now take for granted on the page: punctuation such as the question mark, paragraph marks, the alternation of the colors red and blue for majuscule letters to catch the eye, the systematic addition of running headlines with the author or title on the left and the book and chapter number on the right. Other devices are more ambitious: the creation of tables of contents and, by 1230, alphabetical subject index indexes enabling the reader to search through a work for every appearance of a word or topic. By 1300 virtually every major work of the Church Fathers was provided with an alphabetical subject index. In addition, free-standing alphabetical reference tools appear in the thirteenth century, most impressive among them being the alphabetically arranged concordance of the words in the Bible" (Rouse, "Authentic Witnesses: Manuscript Making and Models of Production," Rouse & Light, Manuscript Production. Primer 6, published by Les Enluminures [2014] 5).

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Banning the Use of Paper for Legal Documents 1231

From his book, De arte venandi cum avibus (The art of hunting with birds), a portrait of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, flanked by a falcon. (View Larger)

In 1231 Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Sicily, from his court in Palermo, banned the use of paper for notarial documents, believing it to be less permanent than parchment or vellum. The use of paper in the chanceries was mainly restricted to drafts, registers, and minutes.

Bernhard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages (1990) 12.

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Confirmation that Printed Textiles Exist in Europe 1234

In 1231 James I the Conqueror, King of Aragon, Count of Barcelona, and Lord of Montpellier, promulgated a "sumptutary law" forbidding certain groups of the population from wearing "estampados" or printed fabrics. This is the earliest documentation that printed textiles existed in Europe.

Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed (1955) 198, footnote 8.

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Gregory IX Condemns Jews to Inferior Status 1234

A portrait of Pope Gregory IX. (View Larger)

In his 1234 Decretals, Pope Gregory IX invested the doctrine of perpetua servitus iudaeorum – perpetual servitude of the Jews – with the force of canonical law. Pope Gregory was a principal figure in the institutionalization of Church teaching that discriminated against Jews, and condemned them to an inferior status in Christendom. 

"According to this, [the 1234 Decretals] Jews would have to remain in a condition of political servitude and abject humiliation until Judgment Day. The doctrine then found its way into the doctrine of servitus camerae imperialis, or servitude immediately subject to the Emperor's authority, promulgated by Frederick II. The second-class status of Jews thereby established would last until well into the 19th century" (quoted from the Wikipedia article on Pope Gregory IX, accessed 11-25-2008. The Wikipedia article cites a specific reference for the information.)

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Pope Gregory IX Orders the Seizure and Burning of Jewish Books June 9 – June 20, 1239

In response to a denunciation of "blasphemies" in the Talmud by Nicholas Donin, a Jewish convert to Christianity, On June 9, 1239 Pope Gregory IX ordered the archbishops of France, England, Spain and Portugal to seize all Jewish books and examine them. In his letter of June 20, 1239 Gregory ordered the churchmen of Paris to burn the confiscated works if they were found to contain "objectionable" content.

Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World. A Source Book: 315-1791, rev. ed. (1999) 163.

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Perhaps the First Grammar of a Romance Language Circa 1240

About 1240 troubadours Uc "Faidit" (meaning "exiled" or "dispossessed," Uc de Saint Circ [San Sir] or Hugues [Hugh] de Saint Circq, and Raymond Vidal de Besaudun published Donatz proensals.

Troubadours (Occitan pronunciation: [tɾuβaˈðuɾ], originally [tɾuβaˈðoɾ], English /ˈtruːbədʊər/, French: [tʁubaduːʁ]) were composers and performers of Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages (1100–1350).  Uc is considered the "inventor" (trobador) of troubadour poetry. It is thouight that he may have taken the name "Faidit" (exiled or dispossessed) during his exile in Italy during the Albigensian Crusade. This grammar of the Occitan language may have been first grammar of an Romance language.

Occitan, a romance language spoken in southern France, Italy's Occitan Valleys, Monaco, and Spain's Val d'Aran-- the regions sometimes known informally as Occitania-- is also spoken in the linguistic enclave of Guardia Piemontese (Calabria, Italy). It is an official language in Catalonia (Spain) (known as Aranese in Val d'Aran). Modern Occitan is the closest relative of Catalan.

The manuscript was first published in print in 1840.  A "revised, corrected and considerably augmented" edition by François Guesnard entitled Grammaires provençales appeared in Paris in 1858.

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The "De Brailes Hours," The Earliest Surviving English Book of Hours Circa 1240

The "De Brailes Hours" (British Library MS Add. 49999), the earliest surviving separate English book of hours, was probably created about 1240 for an unknown laywoman whose generic "portrait" is shown four times in the manuscript. It has been suggested she was from North Hinksey near Oxford, and possibly called Suzanna. 

The illuminator of the manuscript, William de Brailes, is one of only two English artists of the 13th century whose name is associated with surviving works, and the only 13th-century English non-monastic illuminator known to have signed his work. In this manuscript he signed his name twice. It is also possible that de Brailes may have been a scribe.

The surname de Brailes means "from Brailes", a town in Warwickshire, about 30 miles north of Oxford. Documentary sources reveal that de Brailes lived and worked in Oxford, with his wife Celena, in a bookmaking community based around the present site of the chapel of All Souls College. The "De Brailes Hours" includes two self-portraits. The initial 'C' shows a tonsured figure praying, with the hand of God above. To the left the red inscription reads "W de brail q. me depeint"  (W. de Brailes, who painted me").

In July 2014 a digital facsimile of the De Brailes Hours was available from the British Library at this link.

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Copies of the Talmud are Seized in France June 3, 1240

A portrait of Louis IX.

Responding to the 1239 order of Pope Gregory IX, Louis IX of France ordered the seizure of copies of the Talmud in France. Louis was the only European ruler to follow the Pope's order.

Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World. A Source Book: 315-1791, rev. ed. (1999) 163

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Louis IX Orders the Burning of 12,000 Manuscripts of the Talmud June 1242

In 1242 French King Louis IX (St. Louis), who characterized himself as "lieutenant of God on Earth," conducted two crusades. In order to finance his first crusade he ordered the expulsion from France of all Jews engaged in usury, and the confiscation of their property, for use in his crusade.

Louis also ordered, in response to the 1239 decree of Pope Gregory IX, the burning in Paris of 24 cartloads or roughly 12,000 manuscript copies, of the Talmud and other Jewish books.

To understand the magnitude of this destruction one must bear in mind the unbelievable labor involved in copying out a single manuscript copy of the Talmud, the Hebrew text of which extended to about 2,000,000 words. It is also very probable that manuscripts included in this destruction dated back for many centuries and included priceless information.

Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World. A Source Book:315-1791, rev. ed. (1999) page 163 states that the burning of Talmuds in Paris probably occurred again in 1244.

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The First Record of a Chinese Printed Seal in Europe 1245

In 1245 Pope Innocent IV sent Father Giovanni da Pian del Carpine (John of Plano Carpini) to an embassy to the court of the Grand Khan of the Mongol Empire in Karakorum Mongolia (Khalkha Mongolian: Хархорин Kharkhorin).  One of the first Europeans to enter the court of the Great Khan, Carpine was the author of the earliest important Western account of northern and central Asia, Rus, and other regions of the Mongol dominion, Ystoria Mongalorum.

"He [Carpine] went by Prague and Kiev to Mongolia, where he presented his letter and received his reply. This reply—the original—was discovered by accident in the year 1920 in the archives of the Vatican. It is written in Uigur and Persian and contains in lieu of his signature the seal of the Grand Khan Kouyouk (grandson of Jenghis)[Güyük Khan]. This is the first recorded appearance in Europe of an impression from a seal based on those in use in China and impressed with ink upon paper" (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed [1955] 159-60).

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The Vatican Archives Follow the Movements of the Pope 1245 – 1783

". . .during the Middle Ages, particularly after Innocent IV (1243-1254), the popes moved around a great deal. In 1245, Innocent IV is known to have taken a part of the archives with him to the Council of Lyon, after which the records remained for a while stored in the monastery at Cluny. Benedict XI (1303-1304) had the archives placed in Perugia. Clement V (1305-1314) then had the archives placed in Assisi where they remained until 1339, when Benedict XII (1334-1342) had them sent to Avignon.

"The archives remained in Avignon during the time of the Great Schism. Once the difficulties were resolved, Martin V (1427-1431) had the records transported by boat and wagon to Rome, where they were temporarily housed in S. Maria Sopra Minerva then established in his family palace (Colonna) in central Rome. Though important historical records were returned to Rome at this time, including the Vatican Registers, the Avignon material, the paper registers known as the Avignon Registers, were not incorporated into the ASV until 1783" (Blouin, Jr., Vatican Archives: An Inventory and Guide. . . [1998] xviii).

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The Earliest Surviving German Document Written on Paper 1246 – 1247

The earliest surviving manuscript on paper written in Germany is the register of Albert Beham, the dean of the cathedral in Passau, dating from 1246 or 1247.

Bischoff, Latin Palaeography. Antiquity and the Middle Ages (1990) 12.

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The Tabula Peutingeriana: the only Roman World Map that Survived from Antiquity Circa 1250

Rome and its vicinity, as depicted on a reproduction the Tabula Peutingeriana. (View Full Map - Very Large)

The Tabula Peutingerianaan itinerarium or Roman road map, is the only Roman world map that survived from antiquity. It depicts the road network of the Roman Empire. The map ssurvives in a unique copy, preserved at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, made by a monk in Colmar, Alsace, in the thirteenth century, of a map that was last revised in the fourth or early fifth century. That, in turn, was a descendent of the map prepared under the direction of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a friend of Augustus. After Agrippa's death the map was engraved on marble and placed in the Porticus Vipsaniae, not far from the Ara Pacis Augustae in Rome.

Description of the Map

The Tabula Peutingeriana "is a parchment scroll, 0.34 m high and 6.75 m long, assembled from eleven sections, a medieval reproduction of the original scroll. It is a very schematic map: the land masses are distorted, especially in the east-west direction. The map shows many Roman settlements, the roads connecting them, rivers, mountains, forests and seas. The distances between the settlements are also given. Three most important cities of the Roman Empire, Rome, Constantinople and Antioch, are represented with special iconic decoration. Besides the totality of the Empire, the map shows the Near East, India and the Ganges, Sri Lanka (Insula Taprobane), even an indication of China. In the west, the absence of the Iberian Peninsula indicates that a twelfth original section has been lost in the surviving copy.

Constantinople, on the original Tabula Peutingeriana. (View Full Scan - WARNING: 30mb File!)

"The table appears to be based on "itineraries", or lists of destinations along Roman roads, as the distances between points along the routes are indicated. Travellers would not have possessed anything so sophisticated as a map, but they needed to know what lay ahead of them on the road, and how far. The Peutinger table represents these roads as a series of roughly parallel lines along which destinations have been marked in order of travel. The shape of the parchment pages accounts for the conventional rectangular layout. However, a rough similarity to the coordinates of Ptolemy's earth-mapping gives some writers a hope that some terrestrial representation was intended by the unknown compilers.

"The stages and cities are represented by hundreds of functional place symbols, used with discrimination from the simplest icon of a building with two towers to the elaborate individualized "portraits" of the three great cities. Annalina and Mario Levi, the Tabulas editors, conclude that the semi-schematic semi-pictorial symbols reproduce Roman cartographic conventions of the itineraria picta described by Vegetius, of which this is the sole testimony."

History of Ownership and Early Publication

The map is named after Konrad Peutinger, a German humanist and antiquarian, who inherited it from Konrad Birkel or Celtes, who claimed to have "found" it somewhere in a library in 1494.  It was copied for Ortelius and published shortly after his death in 1598. A partial first edition was printed at Antwerp in 1591 as Fragmenta tabulæ antiquæ by Johannes Moretus. Moretus printed the full Tabula in December 1598. The map remained in the Peutinger family until 1714, when it was sold.  After that it passed between royal and elite families until it was purchased by Prince Eugene of Savoy for 100 ducats.  Upon the prince's death in 1737 the map was purchased for the Habsburg Imperial Court Library (Hofbibliothek) in Vienna. 

♦ In preparing his 2010 book Rome's World: The Peutinger Map Reconsidered, historian Richard Talbert collaborated with the staff of the Ancient World Mapping Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and with ISAW's Digital Programs team at New York University, to produce digital tools to record and analyze the map. These were published online, and could be accessed in October 2013: 

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Precedent and Common Law 1250 – 1256

The incipit of HLS MS 1, Harvard Law School's copy of Bracton's De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae, probably written around the year 1300. (View Larger)

Between 1250 and 1256 Henry de Bracton (or Bretton or Bratton) wrote De legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae (On the Laws and Customs of England). 

"The outstanding common-law treatise of the Middle Ages, it is remarkable for its use of actual court decisons for illustrative purposes. It appears to have been written by a number of authors in the 1250's, with the last work being done on it by Henry de Bracton when he was a judge of the King's Bench."

The first edition of Bracton, printed in 1569 by Richard Tottel. (View Larger)

Bracton's original manuscript did not survive.

"There are approximately 49 surviving manuscripts of Bracton, many fragmentary or abridged. All date from the c14 or very late c13, and none is closer than third generation from the original." (quotations from Harvard Law School Library Bracton Online, accessed 12-30-2008).

Bracton's De Legibus was first published in print by Richard Tottel, London, 1569.

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The First Alphabetical Subject Indexes Circa 1250

"Paris was of course a major center of the devising and use of alphabetical tools in the thirteenth century. The several motive forces that created the various indexing tools, devices, and procedures flowed into and out from Paris. By the middle of the thirteenth century, it in fact becomes pointless to try to distinguish between Cistercian tools and university tools. The two communities shared at least one activity in common, that of preaching to the laity. After the foundation of a Cistercian house of studies at Paris, the Collège Saint-Bernard, the two institutions shared personnel as well. The indexing method that had been peculiarity Cistercian, the use of marginal letters and changing alphabets as reference systems, was picked up and used by the schools; the A – G reference system, developed by the Paris Dominicans for the concordances, was adapted for their particular needs by the Cistercians of Bruges. Books from the Paris schools invaded Cistercian (as well as Benedictine) libraries, to the point of eclipsing the monastic scriptoria, while indexed Cistercian florilegia from Villers and Clairvaux made their way into the studies of the masters, and the shops of the stationers, in Paris and Oxford.

"One of the archetypical contributions of the University of Paris in this field is the application of indexing techniques to the works of Aristotle. Distinctiones, biblical concordances, and Cistercian indexes were, as we have seen, devoted to those works which constitute the very core of the Christian tradition. At the Paris schools, however, we see for the first time the development of reference works designed to facilitate access to texts for strictly scholarly purposes, without the remotest connection to sermon-preparation. By mid-century, there were alphabetical indexes to the majority of works in the Latin Aristotelian corpus, Old Logic, New Logic, the Ethica, the Libri naturales. Since these reference tools are anonymous, it is obviously impossible to prove that they originate at Paris; but the combination of the two activities, Aristotelian studies and creation of indexes, can point nowhere else at this period" (Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 228-28).

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Possibly the First Joint-Stock Company Circa 1250

In 1190, with the permission of comte Raymond V of Toulouse, a sort of dam (chaussée) and adjacent mills were built in and on the banks of the River Garonne in Toulouse, France. 

Around 1250 96 shares of the Société des moulins du Bazacle, or Bazacle Milling Company, were traded in Toulouse at a value that depended on the profitability of the mills the society owned. The name Bazacle derived from the Latin vadaculum, or "little ford." The original stock offering was underwritten by a group of local seigneurs who shared the profits according to the number of shares they possessed. The shares of this society came to be traded on the open market in Toulouse, and their value fluctuated according to the profitability of the mills. In the sixteenth century Rabelais stated that the Bazacle mills were the most powerful in the world. The company, which survived until 1946, is sometimes claimed as the earliest example of a joint-stock company.

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From 1250 to 1550 More Books of Hours Were Produced by Hand & by Press than Any Other Type of Book 1250 – 1550

"Books of Hours constitute one of the most significant groups of cultural artifacts from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Indeed, from the mid-thirteenth to the mid-sixteenth century, more Books of Hours were produced, both by hand and by press, than any other type of book. They were the bestsellers of an era that lasted 300 years. In an era when some of the most important painting was in books, the illuminated miniatures in manuscript Books of Hours are the picture galleries of the Middle Ages. And straddling the revolution of manuscript to print, Books of Hours are the great constant in a sea of changing readership and competing markets" (Wieck, Painted Prayers, The Book of Hours in Medieval and Renaissance Art [1997]).

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The Most Extensive Medieval Encyclopedia Circa 1250

About 1250 Dominican friar Vincent de Beauvais (Vincent of Beauvais, Vincentius Bellovacensis or Vincentius Burgundus), whose name is associated with the Dominican monastery founded by Louis IX of France at Beauvais, France, compiled the Speculum maius, the largest medieval encyclopedia, and probably the largest reference work compiled in the west until 1600. A compendium of all medieval knowledge, the Speculum maius, or Great Mirror, consisted of three parts: the Speculum naturaleSpeculum doctrinale and Speculum historiale. After the invention of printing all the editions included a fourth part, the Speculum morale, added in the 14th century and mainly compiled from the works of Thomas Aquinas, Stephen de Bourbon, and others. In this form the work contained eighty books and 9, 885 chapters, and extended to about 4.5 million words.

On November 15, 2013 I read medievalist Linda Fagin Davis's entry entitled "Monks and Minnesota" in her very distinctive Manuscript Road Trip blog. In that she reminded me about a two-volume medieval manuscript of Vincent's Speculum naturale which I sold to The Bakken Museum in Minneapolis during the 1970s. This was the first significant medieval manuscript that I ever handled. It was purchased by The Bakken because it contains some of the earliest recorded references to magnetism, as cited in Mottelay's Bibliographical History of Electricity And Magnetism (1922).

The Bakken's volumes were copied about 1280 by the monk Johannes de Resbais and his Cisterican brethren in the scriptorium of the Abbey of Cambron in Belgium. They were part of a seven volume set that eventually extended to about 1500 leaves (3000 pages) of vellum in small folio—an immense project of manuscript book production, and a very expensive set at the time for the cost of the vellum and the scriptorium labor. Linda Davis stated that "Johannes signed two of the volumes ('Johannes de Resbais wrote this; pray for him, beloved brothers, men of God'), and most include the fourteenth-century ex libris 'Liber sanctae mariae de camberonae” ('This book belongs to St. Mary of Cambron')." According to a catalogue of the Cambron Abbey library all seven volumes were still in the abbey as late as 1782. However, it is likely that they were dispersed in the closure of many religious establishments during the Napoleonic Wars (1800-1815). 

"Research into the medieval reception of Vincent's Speculum has turned up only two extant copies of the whole work from a handful that were made in the Middle Ages. The Speculum circulated mostly in partial copies, three hundred of which survive, most of them focused on the Speculum historiale. But even the Speculum historiale survives in only thirty-seven complete copies. Given its massive size, the Speculum was prohibitively expensive to copy except partially. Printing was the key to its circulation either as complete parts during the incunabular period or as a complete set of four in 1591 and 1624. But Vincent of Beauvais was widely known and used as a source in shorter, more portable and affordable encyclopedic compilations. Among these the Libri de proprietatibus by Bartholomaeus Anglicus was widely copied in the Middle Ages and printed nine times down to 1491 and in English as late as 1582" (Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age [2010] 43-44, see also 41-45).

When I sold the manuscript to The Bakken I knew little about medieval manuscripts, and had only modest appreciation of the significance of this very large compendium. Nor was I aware that the Speculum naturale was rarer than the Speculum historiale, though it would stand to reason that a compilation on "science" might have had smaller circulation during the Middle Ages. The Wikipedia article on Vincent of Beauvais provides a good summary of the vast scope of the Speculum naturale, chiefly adapted from the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911):

"The vast tome of the Speculum Naturale (Mirror of Nature), divided into thirty-two books and 3,718 chapters, is a summary of all of the science and natural history known to Western Europe towards the middle of the 13th century, a mosaic of quotations from Latin, Greek,Arabic, and even Hebrew authors, with the sources given. Vincent distinguishes, however, his own remarks.

The Speculum Naturale deals with its subjects in the order that they were created: it is essentially a gigantic commentary on Genesis 1. Thus, book i. opens with an account of the Trinity and its relation to creation; then follows a similar series of chapters about angels, their attributes, powers, orders, etc., down to such minute points such as their methods of communicating thought, on which matter the author decides, in his own person, that they have a kind of intelligible speech, and that with angels, to think and to speak are not the same process.

Book ii. treats of the created world, of light, color, the four elements, Lucifer and his fallen angels and the work of the first day.

Books iii. and iv. deal with the phenomena of the heavens and of time, which is measured by the motions of the heavenly bodies, with the sky and all its wonders, fire, rain, thunder, dew, winds, etc.

Books v.-xiv. treat of the sea and the dry land: the discourse of the seas, the ocean and the great rivers, agricultural operations, metals, precious stones, plants, herbs with their seeds, grains and juices, trees wild and cultivated, their fruits and their saps. Under each species, where possible, Vincent gives a chapter on its use in medicine, and he adopts for the most part an alphabetical arrangement. In book vi. c. 7, he incidentally discusses what would become of a stone if it were dropped down a hole, pierced right through the earth, and, curiously enough, decides that it would stay in the centre. In book ix., he gives an early instance of the use of the magnet in navigation.

Book xv. deals with astronomy: the moon, the stars, the zodiac, the sun, the planets, the seasons and the calendar.

Books xvi. and xvii. treat of fowls and fishes, mainly in alphabetical order and with reference to their medical qualities.

Books xviii.-xxii. deal in a similar way with domesticated and wild animals, including the dog, serpents, bees and insects; they also include a general treatise on animal physiology spread over books xxi.-xxii.

Books xxiii.-xxviii. discuss psychology, physiology and anatomy of man, the five senses and their organs, sleep, dreams, ecstasy, memory, reason, etc.

The remaining four books seem more or less supplementary; the last (xxxii.) is a summary of geography and history down to the year 1250, when the book seems to have been given to the world, perhaps along with the Speculum Historiale and possibly an earlier form of the Speculum Doctrinale."

In her blog Ms. Davis told an extraordinary story of the Vincent de Beauvais manuscript, and reminded me of the remarkable coincidence, which I vaguely remember understanding forty years ago, that the Bakken's manuscript belonged to the same medieval copy of Vincent's encyclopedia as two volumes of the Speculum historiale at the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota, also in Minneapolis. From her account of the history of the original set of seven volumes I quote:

"S[peculum]H[istoriale] III was lost, probably destroyed.

"S[peculum]N[aturale] III was acquired by the British Library in 1845, where it is now MS Add. 15583.

"SH II/IV and SN I/II were acquired in 1836 by the great collector Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792 – 1872) in whose collection they were collectively known as MS 8753. Phillipps already owned SH I, having purchased it from the Abbey about a decade before; it was his MS 335. Did he know that the four volumes he bought in 1836 were sisters to the volume he already owned? Your guess is as good as mine.

"After Phillipps’ death in 1872, the five volumes in his collection were further divided. SH I was acquired by the Royal Library of Belgium in 1888 (it’s MS BR II.941). The four remaining Phillipps manuscripts were sold together at an 1897 auction as a single lot to dealer Bernard Quaritch.

"Quaritch seems to have had a hard time selling the volumes. He offered them for sale in 1898 for £60 (here’s the catalogue) and again in 1904 for the same price (here’s that catalogue), selling them at last in 1907 to noted bibliophile Sir Sydney Cockerell (1867-1962). Cockerell sold SN I and II to his friend C. S. St. John Hornby for £40 in 1907; he kept the other two until 1956, when he sold them to New York bookdealer H. P Kraus for £500 (a whopping profit). Kraus sold them in 1957 to the John Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota, where they can still be found under the shelfmark 1280 oVi.

"To recap, we have watched as two volumes (SH II and SH IV) made their way from Belgium to England to New York to Minnesota. But we’re not done yet.

"Hornby kept the remaining two manuscripts (SN I and II) until 1946, when he sold them for £100 to British collector John R. Abbey (1894-1969). In 1975, the volumes were sold at auction by Sotheby’s London to a dealer named Jeremy Norman, who bought them for £4000 (another whopping profit, this time for the Abbey estate) on behalf of…The Bakken! After a journey of hundreds of years and thousands of miles, four of the seven Cambron volumes have been reunited in Minneapolis, in libraries just a few miles apart."

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More than 1000 Birch-Bark Documents Have Been Excavated from Mud in Veliky Novgorod, Russia 1250

On October 18, 2014 David M. Herszenhorn published an article in The New York Times entitled "Where Mud is Archaeological Gold, Russian History Grew on Trees." The article described and illustrated examples of the over 1000 documents, including many letters, written on birch-bark that were excavated from the mud of the Russian city, Veliky Novgorod or Novgorod in Russia. The city, founded in the late 10th century CE, has been the site of numerous invaluable archaeological finds excavated from mud. The large number of documents, which survived since birch-bark does not decay in mud, provide a window into diverse aspects of society in the region during the Middle Ages.

In October 2014 a Russian website (gramoty.ru) concerning the birch-bark documents was available at this link.

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The Crusader Bible, One of the Greatest Masterpieces of Manuscript Illumination Circa 1250

The Crusader Bible, also known as the Morgan Picture Bible, the Maciejowski Bible, and the Shah ‘Abbas Bible, contains 46 illuminated folios of which 43 are preserved in The Morgan Library & Museum (MS M.638), 2 in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF, Ms n.a.l. 2294 fols 2, 3), and a single folio in the J. Paul Getty Museum, (Ludwig I 6 - 83.MA.55). This picture book, which was probably produced in Paris about 1250, has long been associated with the court of Louis IX, the pious crusader king of France and builder of the Sainte-Chapelle chapel on the Île de la Cité in Paris. Its illuminations, by seven different artists, are renowned for their bold coloring and draftsmanship, which bring Old Testament stories to life in bright images replete with medieval castles, towns, and battling knights in armor, all set in thirteenth-century France. In 346 images on 46 folios the manuscript illustratates portions of Genesis, Exodus Joshua, Judges, Ruth and Samuel. Forty percent of the images are devoted to the life of David.

It is believed that the manuscript originally probably contained only paintings. Around the year 1300 marginal inscriptions in Latin describing the scenes illustrated were added. The manuscript was owned by Cardinal Bernard Maciejowski, Bishop of Cracow, in the early 17th century. On January 3, 1608 Cardinal Maciejowksi had the book given as a gift to Abbas I (Shah of Persia). Abbas ordered the addition of Persian inscriptions, mostly translating the Latin inscriptions previously added. Following the sack of Isfahan by Afghans in 1722, the book was acquired by a Persian-speaking Jew who added inscriptions in Judeo-Persian. The book thus consists of paintings of events from Hebrew scripture, set in the scenery and customs of thirteenth-century France, depicted from a Christian perspective, and surrounded by text in three scripts and five languages: Latin, Persian, Arabic, Judeo-Persian, and Hebrew. It was purchased in Egypt by Giovanni d’Athanasi; his sale (London, Sotheby’s, March 16, 1833, lot 201) to Payne and Foss; Sir Thomas Phillipps (Phillipps Collection, no. 8025); purchased by J.P. Morgan (1867-1943) in 1916.

In November 2014 digital facsimiles of the all of the leaves of the Crusader Bible held by the Morgan Library & Museum were available at this link.

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The Black Book of Carmarthen, Probably Earliest Surviving Manuscript Written Entirely in Welsh Circa 1250

One of the collection of manuscripts amassed at the mansion of Hengwrt, near DolgellauGwynedd, Wales, by Welsh antiquary  Robert Vaughan in the 17th century, the Black Book of Carmarthen (Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin) may be the earliest surviving manuscript written entirely in Welsh. It was associated with the Priory of St. John the Evangelist and Teulyddog at Carmarthen, possibly the oldest town in Wales. This and its black binding are the source of its name. Notably the manuscript contains some of the earliest references to King Arthur and Merlin.

The Black Book of Carmarthen is a small (170 x 125 mm), incomplete, vellum codex of 54 folios (108 pages) in eight gatherings. Though it was written by a single scribe, inconsistency in the ruling of each folio, in the number of lines per folio, and in handwriting size and style, suggest a non-professional writing over a long period of time. The opening folia, written in a large textura on alternating ruled lines, are followed by folia in much smaller, cramped script.

"The book contains a small group of triads about the horses of Welsh heroes, but is chiefly a collection of 9th–12th century poetry falling into various categories: religious and secular subjects, and odes of praise and of mourning. Of greater interest are the poems which draw on traditions relating to the Welsh heroes associated with the Hen Ogledd  (Cumbria  and surrounding area), and especially those connected with the legend of Arthur and Myrddin, also known as Merlin, thus predating the descriptions of Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth. One of the poems, The Elegy of Gereint son of Erbin, refers to the "Battle of Llongborth", the location of which can no longer be pinpointed, and mentions Arthur's involvement in the battle.

"The poems 'Yr Afallennau' and 'Yr Oianau' describe the mad Merlin in a forest talking to an apple tree and a pig, prophesying the success or failure of the Welsh army in battles with the Normans in South Wales" (Wikipedia article on Black Book of Carmarthen, accessed 04-07-2015).

The manuscript seems to have been first recorded in the 16th century, when it came to the possession of Sir John Prise (Price) of Brecon, a Welsh public notary who acted as a royal agent and visitor of the monasteries during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. It was given to him by the treasurer of St. David’s Cathedral, having come from Carmarthen Priory. In the 19th century William Forbes Skene described the Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin as one of the ‘Four Ancient Books of Wales’. It is preserved in the National Library of Wales (NLW Peniarth MS 1).

In April 2015 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available from the National Library of Wales at this link.

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The Domus Conversorum, Later the Public Record Office 1253

Henry III, by an unknown artist. (View Larger)

In 1253 Henry III of England established the Domus Conversorum (House of the Converts), a building and institution in London for Jews who converted to Christianity. The building provided a communal home and low wages needed by Jews because all Jews who converted to Christianity forfeited all their possessions.

With the expulsion of the Jews by Edward I (Longshanks) in 1290, the Domus Conversorum became the only way for Jews to remain in England. At that stage there were about eighty residents, out of a former Jewish population in England estimated at 3000. By 1356, the last of these converts died. Between 1331 to 1608, only 48 converts were admitted. The warden of the facility was also Master of the Rolls.

The Domus Conversorum was in Chancery Lane. No records for converts/residents exist after 1609, but, in 1891, the post of chaplain for the facility was abolished by Act of Parliament and the location, which had been used to store legal archives, became the Public Record Office, now called The National Archives.

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Formation of the University of Paris 1257

Robert de Sorbon, founder of the University of Paris. (View Larger)

In 1257 Robert de Sorbon, a chaplain and confessor to King Louis IX, founded the Collège de Sorbonne, or University of Paris. Starting with 20 theology students, and virtually no library except a small collection of manuscripts, the college quickly built a prodigious reputation as a center for learning, and rapidly expanded its library mainly through donations, including the library of Robert de Douai, physician to Queen Marguerite. In Robert's will dated 1258 he left to the college 1500 pounds Parisian, and bequeathed " 'omnes libros meos de theologia, tam biblias, tam originalia, quam alios libros glosatos' which came to the Sorbonne four years later" (Rouse & Rouse, "The Early Library of the Sorbonne," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 346).  

By the end of the thirteenth century there were as many as twenty thousand foreign students resident in Paris, making Paris the capital of knowledge of the Western world.

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So Many Books were Thrown into the Tigris River that they Formed a Bridge that Would Support a Man on Horseback 1258

Hulagu Khan with his wife, Dokuz Kathun. (View Larger)

In 1258 Mongols under the command of Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad, destroying the House of Wisdom, the leading library in the leading intellectual center of the Arab world.

The House of Wisdom, founded in the eighth century, contained countless precious documents accumulated over five hundred years. Survivors said so many books were thrown into the river that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink; others said the waters were red from blood.

"In one week, libraries and their treasures that had been accumulated over hundreds of years were burned or otherwise destroyed. So many books were thrown into the Tigris River, according to one writer, that they formed a bridge that would support a man on horseback" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 85).

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139 Professional Scribes Are Working in Bologna 1265 – 1268

(View Larger)

By the thirteenth century the production of books moved from the exclusive province of monastic scriptoria to civilian professional scribes in cities, especially around universities. 139 professional scribes, including two women, are known to have worked in Bologna, Italy, site of the University of Bologna, from 1265-68.

Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 224, note no. 4.

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The Travels of Niccolo and Maffeo Polo 1266

A map illustrating both the first and second Polo expeditions. (View Larger)

In 1266 Venetian traders Niccolò and Maffeo Polo, the father and uncle of Marco Polo, were among the first Westerners to travel the Silk Road to China. Before the birth of Marco, they established trading posts in Constantinople, Sudak in the Crimea, and in a western part of the Mongol Empire. In 1266 the Polos reached the seat of Kublai Kahn in the Mongol capital Khanbaliq, Khanbaliq or Dadu (also Ta-Tu or Daidu), now Beijing.

Marco Polo, who wrote the famous account of the travels of his father and uncle, did not accompany them on this expedition.

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Discovery of the Compass--The Earliest Known European Work of Experimental Science 1269

A schematic for Pierre de Maricourt's perpetual motion machine, from an early edition of the Epistola. (View Larger)

In 1269 Pierre de Maricourt (Petrus Peregrinus) an engineer in a French army besieging Lucera in southern Italy, was in charge of fortifying the camp, laying mines and constructing machines to hurl stones and fireballs into the besieged city. In his spare time he attempted to solve the problem of perpetual motion. He devised a diagram to show how a wheel might be driven round forever by the power of magnetic attraction. Excited by his discovery, he wrote a treatise in the form of a letter on the properties of the lodestone which he had discovered during his experiments. This letter, which circulated in manuscript, was given the title Epistola de magnete. In it Peregrinus was the first to assign a position to the poles of a lodestone.  He proved that unlike poles attract, while like poles repel. He also established by experiments "that every fragment of a lodestone, however small, is a complete magnet, and determined the position of an object by its magnetic bearing . . . ." Peregrinus also described how a compass is constructed.

The Epistola is considered the earliest known European work of experimental science, and the foundation of the study of electricity and magnetism. It was first issued as a printed book in 1558.

"Prior to the introduction of the compass, wayfinding at sea was primarily done via celestial navigation, supplemented in some places by the use of soundings. Difficulties arose where the sea was too deep for soundings and conditions were continually overcast or foggy. Thus the compass was not of the same utility everywhere. For example, the Arabs could generally rely on clear skies in navigating the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean (as well as the predictable nature of the monsoons). This may explain in part their relatively late adoption of the compass. Mariners in the relatively shallow Baltic made extensive use of soundings.

"In the Mediterranean, however, the practice from ancient times had been to curtail sea travel between October and April, due in part to the lack of dependable clear skies during the Mediterranean winter (and much of the sea is too deep for soundings). With improvements in dead reckoning methods, and the development of better charts, this changed during the second half of the 13th century. By around 1290 the sailing season could start in late January or February, and end in December. The additional few months were of considerable economic importance; it enabled Venetian convoys, for instance, to make two round trips a year to the eastern Mediterranean, instead of one."

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Survival of the Works of Archimedes was Dependent upon Three Manuscripts, Only One of Which Survived to the Present 1269 – 1544

In contrast to Euclid's Elements, which were written at the Royal Library of Alexandria, and widely disseminated, the writings of the Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer Archimedes were not widely known in antiquity. Survival of their texts was due to interest in Archimedes' writings at the Byzantine capital of Constantinople from the sixth through the tenth centuries.

"It is true that before that time individual works of Archimedes were obviously studied at Alexandria, since Archimedes was often quoted by three eminent mathematicians of Alexandria: Hero, Pappus, and Theon. But it is with the activity of Eutocius of Ascalon, who was born toward the end of the fifth century and studied at Alexandria, that the textual history of a collected edition of Archimedes properly begins. Eutocius composed commentaries on three of Archimedes' works: On the Sphere and the Cylinder, On the Measurement of the Circle, and On the Equilibrium of Planes. These were no doubt the most popular of Archimedes' works at that time. . . . The works of Archimedes and the commentaries of Eutocius were studied and taught by Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, Justinian's architects of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. It was apparently Isidore who was responsible for the first collected edition of at least the three works commented on by Eutocius as well as the commentaries. Later Byzantine authors seem gradually to have added other works to this first collected edition until the ninth century when the educational reformer Leon of Thessalonica produced the compilation represented by Greek manuscript A (adopting the designation used by the editor, J. L. Heiberg).  Manuscript A contained all of the Greek works now known excepting On Floating Bodies, On the Method, Stomachion, and The Cattle Problem. This was one of the two manuscripts available to William of Moerbeke when he made his Latin translations in 1269.  It was the source, directly or indirectly, of all of the Renaissance copies of Archimedes. A second Byzantine manuscript, designated as B, included only the mechanical works: On the Equilibrium of Planes, On the Quadrature of the Parabola and On Floating Bodies (and possibly On Spirals).  It too was available to Moerbeke. But it disappears after an early fourteenth-century reference. Finally we can mention a third Byzantine manuscript, C, a palimpsest whose Archimedean parts are in a hand of the tenth century. It was not available to the Latin West in the Middle Ages, or indeed in modern times until its identification by Heiberg in 1906 at Constantinople (where it had been brought from Jerusalem)" (Marshall Clagett, "Archimedes," Dictionary of Scientific Biography I [1970] 223).

Transmission of Archimedes' writings to the west was largely dependent upon the translation into Latin of most of the Archimedean texts in manuscripts A and B by the Flemish Dominican William of Moerbeke (Willem van Moerbeke) in 1269.  These manuscripts had passed into the Pope's library from the collection of the Norman kings of the Two Sicilies.  Moerbeke's translations of the two manuscripts were not without errors, but they presented the texts in an understandable way. The holograph of Moerbeke's translation survives in the Vatican Library (MS Vat. Ottob. lat. 1850). It was not widely copied. Manuscripts A and B no longer survive.

"In the fifteenth century, knowledge of Archimedes in Europe began to expand. A new latin translation was made by James of Cremona in about 1450 by order of Pope Nicholas V. Since this translation was made exclusively from manuscript A, the translation failed to include On Floating Bodies, but it did include the two treatises in A omitted by Moerbeke, namely The Sand Reckoner and Eutocius' Commentary on the Measurement of the Circle. It appears that this new translation was made with an eye on Moerbeke's translation. . . . There are at least nine extant manuscripts of this translation, one of which was corrrected by Regiomontanus and brought to Germany about 1468. . . . Greek manuscript A itself was copied a number of times. Cardinal Bessarion had one copy prepared between 1449 and 1468 (MS E). Another (MS D) was made from A when it was in the possession fo the well-kinown humanist George [Giorgio] Valla. The fate of A and its various copies has been traced skillfully by J. L. Heiberg in his edition of Archimedes' Opera. The last known use of manuscript A occurred in 1544, after which time it seems to have disappeared.  The first printed Archimedean materials were in fact merely latin excerpts that appeared in George Valla's De expetendis et fugiendis rebus opus (Venice, 1501) and were based on his reading of manuscript A. But the earliest actual printed texts of Archimedes were the Moerbeke translations of On the Measurement of the Circle and On the Quadrature of the Parabola (Teragonismus, id est circuli quadratura etc.) published from the Madrid manuscript by L.[uca] Gaurico (Venice, 1503). In 1543 also at Venice N.[iccolo] Tartaglia republished the same two translations directly from Gaurico's work, and in addition, from the same Madrid manuscript, the Moerbeke translations of On the Equilbrium of Planes and Book I of On Floating Bodes (leaving the erroneous impression that he had made these translations from a Greek manuscript, which he had not since he merely repeated the texts of the Madrid manuscript, with virtually all their errors.) . . . The key event, however, in the further spread of Archimedes was the aforementioned editio princeps of the Greek text with the accompanying Latin translation of James of Cremona at Basel in 1544. . . ." Clagett, op. cit., 228-229).

For the editio princeps the editor Thomas Gechauff, called Venatorius (d. 1551), was able to use the above-mentioned manuscript of James of Cremona's (Jacopo da Cremona's) Latin translation corrected by Regiomontanus, which included the commentaries of Eutocius of Ascalon. For the Greek text Gechauff used a manuscript which had been acquired in Rome by humanist Willibald Pirckheimer, and is preserved today today in Nuremberg City Library.

Existence of a reliable Greek and Latin edition made the texts available to a wider range of scholars, exerting a strong influence on mathematics and physics in the sixteenth century. "One of the imortant effects of that influence can be seen in Kepler's Astronomia nova, in which Archimedes's so-called 'exhaustion procedure' was applied to the measurement of time elapsed between any two points in Mars's orbit" (Hook & Norman, Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine [1991] no. 61).

♦ After disappearing into a European private collection in the early twentieth century, the third key record of Archimedes' texts discussed above, the tenth century Byzantine manuscript C, known as the Archimedes Palimpsest, re-appeared at a Christie's auction in New York on October 28, 1998, where it was purchased by an anonymous private collector in the United States. Since then it has been made widely available to scholars, and has been the subject of much research.

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The Arrangement and Cataloguing of Books Circa 1270

Humbert de Romans, Dominican scholar who promulgated the notion of arranging books by subject matter.

"The arrangement and cataloguing of books within the individual colleges and other university institutions were also influenced by the changes in book usage reflected in the union catalogs and location lists. In monastic institutions, book collections had traditionally been kept in book chests or armaria — though the individual volumes themselves doubtless were, for much of the time, parceled out among the members of the house. We find, however, in the writings of the Dominican Humbert of Romans, about 1270, instructions that books in the armaria should be physically arranged by subject matter, and that certain ones of them should be chained at lecterns for the common use of all, rather than being either locked away in a chest or loaned for the use of only one person. Before the end of the thirteenth century, both the Collège de Sorbonne in Paris and University College in Oxford had such a collection of chained books attached to reading benches. Early in the next century, about 1320, a member of the Sorbonne compiled a subject catalog of the hundreds of individual texts bound together in some three hundred chained codexes of his college. This development — arrangement of manuscripts by subject matter, affixing chains to selected books, an index of the content of a whole collection — corresponds in its way, in both purpose and inguenuity, to the making of concordances, distinction collections, subject indexes, and union catalogs; and it is in such a context that it should be considered. The common goal of all these devices was to facilitate access to desired information" (Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 238-39).

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Carrying the Pope's Response to Kublai Khan 1271

A map of the Polos' eastward journey, begun in 1271. (View Larger)

In 1271 Maffeo and Niccolò Polo set out on a second journey carrying Pope Clement IV's response to Kublai Khan, in 1271. This time Niccolò took his son Marco. When Marco Polo arrived at Kublai Khan's court he became a favorite of the khan and was employed in China for 17 years. "In the 8th Year of Zhiyuan (1271), Kublai Khan officially declared the creation of the Yuan Dynasty, and proclaimed the capital to be at Dadu (Chinese: 大都; Wade–Giles: Ta-tu, lit. "Great Capital", known as Daidu to the Mongols, at today's Beijing) in the following year. His summer capital was in Shangdu (Chinese: 上都, "Upper Capital", a.k.a. Xanadu, near what today is Dolonnur)" (Wikipedia article on Kublai Kahn, accessed 01-25-2012).

"In his book, Il Milione, Marco explains how Kubilai officially received the Polos and sent them back — with a Mongol named Koeketei as an ambassador to the Pope. They brought with them a letter from the Khan requesting educated people to come and teach Christianity and Western customs to his people, and the paiza, a golden tablet a foot long and three inches wide, authorizing the holder to require and obtain lodging, horses and food throughout the Great Khan's dominion. Koeketei left in the middle of the journey, leaving the Polos to travel alone to Ayas in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From that port city, they sailed to Saint Jean d'Acre, capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem."  

"The long sede vacante — between the death of Pope Clement IV, in 1268, , and the election of Pope Gregory X, in 1271— prevented the Polos from fulfilling Kublai’s request. As suggested by Theobald Visconti, papal legate for the realm of Egypt, in Acres for the Ninth Crusade, the two brothers returned to Venice in 1269 or 1270, waiting for the nomination of the new Pope (Wikipedia article on Niccolò and Marco Polo, accessed 04-04-2010).

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Foundation of the Library of the Sorbonne, and "Perhaps the Earliest Specific and Organized System of Book Arrangement in a Library" 1271

From a late 14th century copy of Richard de Fournival's 'Biblionomia.' A catalog of the section on philosophy, in which books are described by their dimensions. (View Larger)

In 1271 theologian Gerard d' Abbeville, a Parisian master and neighbor of Robert de Sorbon, bequeathed nearly 300 volumes of manuscripts to the Library of the Sorbonne. This gift became the core of the Sorbonne Library, and of the roughly 300 original volumes, 118 remain preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France today. d'Abbeville's bequest incorporated the library of Richard de Fournival, author of the library catalogue entitled Biblionomia. In his history of the manuscript collections from which the Bibliothèque nationale was formed, Le cabinet des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Impériale, Leopold Delisle characterized this catalogue as "one of the most curious monuments of the bibliographic art of the Middle Ages. The only manuscript which has survived of this small work is 'très-incorrect', and cannot be dated before the beginning of the 15th century. Having belonged to the Collège des Cholets, it is today part of the library of the Université de France at the Sorbonne...." (translation mine, from 518-19).

According to Delisle, Fournival used a garden metaphor to describe his library, in which the various branches of knowledge each have their plot, but beyond the metaphor Fournival described a specific classification scheme, coordinating desk or shelf letters or numbers with different kinds of letters and colors of letters. The first division of the library was devoted to philosophy, which Fournival further broke down into nine categories on eleven shelves, arranged partly according to volume size:

1. Grammar

2. Dialectic

3. Rhetoric

4. Geometry and Arithmetic

5. Music and Astronomy

6. Physics and Metaphysics

7. Metaphysics and Morals

8. Melanges of Philosophy

9. Poetry

The second division of Fournival's Biblionomia was devoted to what Delisle calls "sciences lucratives"--medicine, civil law and canon law.

The third division of the library was theology, i.e. texts and commentaries on the Holy Scriptures and writings of the fathers of the church.

Fournival's Biblionomia is "Perhaps the earliest specific and organized system of book arrangement in a library" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries,"  Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 107).

Delisle pointed out that even though Fournival described the exact content of books in 162 volumes it is difficult to say for sure whether these volumes were ever assembled outside of Fournival's imagination. However, whether imaginary or not, Deslisle felt that the Biblionomia was "rich in valuable information for literary history" and he reprinted the Latin text of Biblionomia in Le cabinet des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Impériale II (1874) 518-535.

According to the Wikipedia article on Fournival, 35 manuscripts from his library remain preserved in various libraries, which would indicate that Fournival owned at least a portion of the works that he described in Biblionomia.

Ullman, The Library of the Sorbonne in the Fourteenth Century. The Septicentennial Celebration of the Founding of the Sorbonne College in the University of Paris. [1953] 38-39.

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The Oldest Surviving Literary Document in Yiddish 1272

Folio 54r of the Worms Mahzor, upon which, in the interstices of the first word in the Prayer for Dew, is inscribed the oldest known Yiddish text: a small blessing in the form of a rhymed couplet, directed towards those who are charged with the seemingly onerous task of carrying the heavy Mahzor from the house of the owner to the synagogue. (View Larger)

Yiddish originated in the Ashkenazi culture that developed from about the 10th century in the Rhineland, and then spread to Central and Eastern Europe, and eventually to other continents. The oldest surviving literary document in Yiddish dates from 1272. It is a blessing in the Mahzor Worms, a festival prayerbook in Hebrew according to the Ashkenazi rite of the Jews in Worms, Germany, for the use of hazanim (cantors) in the synagogue.

The manuscript is preserved in the Jewish National and University Library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the Mahzor Worms was available from the Jewish National and University Library at this link.

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Early Origins of the Star Chamber 1275

The English law, "De Scandalis Magnatum", prohibited the distribution of "any false News or Tales, whereby discord, or occasion of discord or slander may grow between the King and his People, or the Great Men of the Realm." [3 Edw. 1, ch. 34 (1275)]. Although this might at first sound like a reasonable way of protecting officials from slander, in fact, the application of 'De Scandalis' established the principle that even those who made negative comments about the King or government could be called before a select group of officials without need for any warrant or other legal proceeding even if the comments were truthful. Known as the Star Chamber [since 1422] because of the decor of the room in which they held their proceedings, this tribunal had the power to confer any punishment they pleased for the crime of 'endangering the public peace' by criticizing a monarch or other official" (http://www1.assumption.edu/ahc/1770s/ppressfree.html, accessed 01-04-2010).

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Invention of Wooden Movable Type Circa 1275 – 1298

A round type case in which Chinese characters are organized by a rhyme scheme, designed and used by Wang Zhen for the production of his book, 'Nong Shu.' (View Larger)

Wang Zhen, (simplified Chinese: 王祯; traditional Chinese: 王禎; pinyin: Wáng Zhēn; Wade–Giles: Wang Chen, fl. 1290 – 1333), an official of the Yuan Dynasty working in Jingde County in Anhui province, and author of the Nong Shu, developed movable type carved from wood in China. The wood type was more durable than clay type, but worn pieces could only be replaced by carving new ones.

"In improving movable type printing, Wang Zhen mentioned an alternative method of baking earthenware printing type with earthenware frame in order to make whole blocks. Wang Zhen is best known for his usage of wooden movable type while he was a magistrate of Jingde in Anhui province from 1290 to 1301. His main contribution was improving the speed of typesetting with simple mechanical devices, along with the complex, systematic arrangement of wooden movable types. Wang Zhen summarized the process of making wooden movable type as described in the passage below:

“ 'Now, however, there is another method [beyond earthenware type] that is both more exact and more convenient. A compositor's form is made of wood, strips of bamboo are used to mark the lines and a block is engraved with characters. The block is then cut into squares with a small fine saw till each character forms a separate piece. These separate characters are finished off with a knife on all four sides, and compared and tested till they are exactly the same height and size. Then the types are placed in the columns [of the form] and bamboo strips which have been prepared are pressed in between them. After the types have all been set in the form, the spaces are filled in with wooden plugs, so that the type is perfectly firm and will not move. When the type is absolutely firm, the ink is smeared on and printing begins.'

"Wooden movable type had been used and experimented with by Bi Sheng in the 11th century, but it was discarded because wood was judged to be an unsuitable material to use. Wang Zhen improved the earlier experimented process by adding the methods of specific type cutting and finishing, making the type case and revolving table that made the process more efficient.In Wang Zhen's system, all the Chinese writing characters were organized by five different tones and according to rhyming, using a standard official book of Chinese rhymes. Two revolving tables were actually used in the process; one table that had official types from the book of rhymes, and the other which contained the most frequently used Chinese writing characters for quick selection. To make the entire process more efficient, each Chinese character was assigned a different number, so that when a number was called, that writing character would be selected. Rare and unusual characters that were not prescribed a number were simply crafted on the spot by wood-cutters when needed.

"While printing new books, Wang Zhen described that the rectangular dimensions of each book needed to be determined in order to make the corrected size of the four-sided wooden block used in printing. Providing the necessary ink job was done by brush that was moved vertically in columns, while the impression on paper the columns had to be rubbed with brush from top to bottom.

"Two centuries before Hua Sui pioneered bronze-type printing in China in 1490 AD, Wang Zhen had experimented with printing using tin, a metal favored for its low melting point while casting. In the Nong Shu, Wang Zhen wrote:

“ 'In more recent times [late 13th century], type has also been made of tin by casting. It is strung on an iron wire, and thus made fast in the columns of the form, in order to print books with it. But none of this type took ink readily, and it made untidy printing in most cases. For that reason they were not used long.  

"Thus, Chinese metal type of the 13th century using tin was unsuccessful because it was incompatible with the inking process. Although unsuccessful in Wang Zhen's time, the bronze metal type of Hua Sui in the late 15th century would be used for centuries in China, up until the late 19th century.

"Although Wang Zhen's Nong Shu was mostly printed by use of woodblock printing, his innovation of wooden movable type soon became popularly used in the region of Anhui. Wang Zhen's wooden movable type was used to print the local gazetteer paper of Jingde City, which incorporated the use of 60,000 written characters organized on revolving tables. During the year of 1298, roughly one hundred copies of this were printed by wooden movable type in a month's time" (Wikipedia article on Wong Zhen (official), accessed 01-25-2012).

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Edward I's Statute of the Jewry 1275

Edward I, portrayed in the stained glass of Westminster Abbey.

In 1275 Edward I of England (Longshanks) promulgated the Statute of the Jewry.

"Since the time of the Norman Conquest, Jews had been filling a small but vital role in the English economy. Usury by Christians was banned by the church at the time, but Jews were permitted to act as moneylenders and bankers. That position enabled some Jews to amass tremendous wealth, but also earned them the enmity of the English populace, which added to the increasing antisemitic sentiments of the time, due to widespread indebtedness and financial ruin among the Gentile population.

"When Edward returned from the Crusades in 1274, two years after his accession as King of England, he found that land had become a commodity, and that many of his subjects had become dispossessed and w ere in danger of destitution. Jews traded land for money, and land was often mortgaged to Jewish moneylenders.

"As special direct subjects of the monarch, Jews could be taxed indiscriminately by the King. Some have described the situation as indirect usury: the monarch permitting and encouraging Jews to practice usury and then 'taxing' or expropriating some of the profit. In the years leading up to the Statute, Edward taxed them heavily to help finance his forthcoming military campaigns in Wales, which commenced in 1277. One theory holds that he had exhausted the financial resources of the Jewish community when the Statute was passed in 1275.


* Usury was outlawed in every form.

* Creditors of Jews were no longer liable for certain debts.

* Jews were not allowed to live outside certain cities and towns.

* Any Jew above the age of seven had to wear a yellow badge of felt on his or her outer clothing, six inches by three inches.

* All Jews from the age of 12 on had to pay a special tax of three pence annually.

* Christians were forbidden to live among Jews.

* Jews were licensed to buy farmland to make their living for the next 15 years.

* Jews could thenceforth make a living in England only as merchants, farmers, craftsmen or soldiers.

"The license to buy land was included so that farming, along with trading, could give Jews an opportunity to earn a living with the abolition of usury. Unfortunately, other provisions along with widespread prejudice made this difficult for many. When the 15 years passed, and it was widely discovered that their practice of usury had been secretly continued, Jews were finally presented with the Edict of Expulsion of 1290" (Wikipedia article on Statute of the Jewry, accessed 02-13-2009).

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The Earliest Surviving Statute Regulating the Paris Book Trade December 8, 1275

The earliest surviving statute concerning the regulation of the book trade in Paris by the University became law on December 8, 1275. 

"Libraires represented a serious potential danger to the university, because they controlled the supply of books without which the university would be crippled. Therefore, the university's regulations of libraires concentrated first and foremost on the selling of 'used' university texts, attempting by a variety of means to ensure that the libraire did not swindle either the seller or the buyer, and that he took only a modest commission. The libraires had to guarantee their compliance by posting a bond. . . .

"In addition to regulating the sale of existing books, the university also regulated the rental of examplars from which students and masters could copy, or hire someone to copy, new manuscripts of their own. In this the university initially must simply have put its stamp of approval on a process already informally in operation. To judge from the wording of surviving regulations through the years, the university evinced concern primarily with rental price and correct texts. In 1323 the stationers were forbidden to withdraw an examplar from circulation without  first informing the university. . . ." (Richard A. Rouse and Mary A. Rouse, Manuscripts and their Makers. Commercial Book Producers in Medieval Paris 1200-1500 [2000] 76-77).

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"The World's Oldest Continuously Functioning Library for University Academics and Students" 1276

The Merton College Library, at Oxford. (View Larger)

The library of Merton College, Oxford, which calls itself the "the world’s oldest continuously functioning library for university academics and students" traces it origins to 1276:

"The provision of books and their storage feature in College records from 1276, when Robert Kilwardby (Archbishop of Canterbury) directed that any books that Fellows brought with them to the College, or acquired during residence, should remain at Merton. The books were to be kept in a chest under three locks, and to be assigned by the Warden and Sub-Warden to the use of the Fellows against a pledge. Later, there were two collections of books: one was kept chained in libraria (the earliest form of chaining dates from 1284), the other was a circulating library. It is not known where the first chained library was located, but repairs were needed in 1338 and it had to be plastered and whitewashed in 1346" (http://www.merton.ox.ac.uk/aboutmerton/library8.shtml)

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The "North French Hebrew Miscellany": More a Library than a Book 1278 – 1325

The North French Hebrew Miscellany (or "French Miscellany" or "London Miscellany") (British Library Add. MS 11639) was written and signed by Binyamin Ha-Sofer (Benjamin the Scribe), probably in central France (Ile de France or Champagne) in the last quarter of the 13th century or the first quarter of the 14th century. Comprising 746 folios (1492 pages), it contains 84 different groups of texts, including hundreds of poems. It is exceptional both for its wide variety of texts and for the quality of its illuminations, which were added by Christian illuminators. Elements can be dated from contents, including Isaac ben Joseph of Corbeil's legal compendium the Sefer Mitzvot Katan  (a text known to have been finished in 1277), mentions of Yehiel of Paris, who died in 1286, as still alive, and "a table of moladot (lunation-commencements) for the period 1279/80 - 1295/95 (f. 444)."

The manuscript includes 49 full-page miniatures, mostly of Biblical subjects which were executed by 3-5 different Christian illuminators probably attached to workshops in St. Omer (Artois) and Paris. The manuscript has been extensively studied, and elements of its production are debated; the British Library catalogue entry includes an unusually long bibliography.


"A deed of sale written in a German rabbinic hand shows that the manuscript was sold in 1431 by Samuel b. Hayyim to Abraham b. Moses of Coburg. The manuscript probably left France when its owners were banished during the wave of persecution in 1306. By 1479 it had reached Mestre in Italy and a little later was in Venice. In 1480 it was in Padua and in 1481 in Iesi, near Ancona.

"By the end of the fifteenth century it had found its way to north-eastern Italy and was rebound in Modena, near Bologna, in the sixteenth century. The magnificent calf binding that still survives bears the arms of the Rovigo family, one of whose most eminent members, Rabbi Abraham b. Michael, a kabbalist writer, may have owned the manuscript. In the seventeenth century it was examined by a censor and later came into the possession of the Barberini family whose famous golden-bee insignia can still be made out on the binding under a later decorative motif. It is unclear where the manuscript spent the intervening years.... Wherever it was, Giovanni Bernardo de Rossi was able to examine it in the last quarter of the eighteenth century and to include it in his seminal work, Variae lectionis veteris testamenti, in Parma in 1784. The manuscript finally came into the possession of the Reina Library of Milan and remained there until it was sold in 1839 by Maison Silvestre in Paris to Payne & Foss, and then on to the British Museum where it became Additional Manuscript 11639...." (Facsimile Editions description of their edition, accessed 12-10-2013).

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The First Paper Mills in Italy 1279

What remains of an early Fabriano paper mill. (View Larger)

Paper may have first been manufactured in Fabriano, Italy, as early as 1279 because of Fabriano's proximity to Ancona, a port which enjoyed extensive trade with the Arab world.

Hunter, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft, 2nd ed (1947) 474.

(This entry was last revised on March 29, 2014.)

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Autograph Manuscript by Ibn-al-Nafis on the Art of Medicine Circa 1280

Accepted as the author’s autograph, these three volumes, which are somewhat incomplete, comprise the thirty-third, forty-second, and forty-third volumes of the Comprehensive Book on the Art of Medicine by Ibn al-Nafis who died in Cairo in 1288. It is thought that Ibn-Nafis may completed this work in as many as 300 manuscript volumes, but that he may have published only 80 volumes in manuscript, which would have circulated in scribal copies. Of the very extensive writings that Ibn-Nafis is understood to have written, these volumes, preserved at Stanford University's Lane Medical Library, are the only autograph manuscripts by Ibn-al-Nafis which have survived, and one of a very small number of surviving autograph manuscripts by any famous medieval physician or scientist.

The first volume of these manuscripts contains a study of plants, minerals, and animals from the medical point of view. These are arranged alphabetically Vol. 2 continues the study and covers the letters tā, thā, and jīm. It consists of two sections: Vol. 3 is a study of the use of the hand and surgical instruments for medical purposes.

Al-Nafis, an Egyptian physician of the 13th century, was credited with various innovations, most notably the discovery of the lesser circulation, three centuries before Servetus (1553) and Columbo (1559).

Provenance: Aliyah, a Jewish physician of Damascus, Darwish Abbas (seal bearing date corresponding to CE 1743/4) Ernest Seidel (1852-1922), acquired in Lane Library’s purchase of the Seidel library in 1921.

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Probably the Largest Medieval Library in Europe 1289 – 1338

The library of the Université de Paris, one of the best in Europe, was organized during this year into two collections: the magna libraria in which the most frequently used books were chained and made available for general use for teaching and course work, and the parva libraria which contained duplicates, and more specialized works needed for research. The library included 1017 books in 1289.

This information comes from a catalogue of the library written in 1338 which incorporated a catalogue of the library written in 1290, of which only two leaves partially survived as pastedowns.

"The importance of the establishment of a chained library, in the broader picture, is that it established a place where books were not merely kept but where they were used, and used in common. This change at the Sorbonne in 1289-92 is part of a general trend to divide collections, which appears in Europe at the end of the thirteenth and continues through the fourteenth century. Institutions began to divide their collections by causing certain commonly used works to be chained so that these would always be available to their members, while at the same time continuing to provide for the individual needs of their members and outsiders through a circulating collection. The Sorbonne probably provides the earliest clear example of this change taking place" (Rouse & Rouse, "The Early Library of the Sorbonne," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 364, and 343, 352, reproducing a leaf of the 1290 catalogue as plate 8).

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Edward I Expells the Jews from England 1290

The infamous Edward I. (View Larger)

In 1290 King Edward I of England (Longshanks) issued an edict expelling all Jews from England.

"Lasting for the rest of the Middle Ages, it would be over 350 years until it was formally overturned in 1656. The edict was not an isolated incident but the culmination of over 200 years of conflict on the matters of usury. The first Jewish communities of significant size came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. On the conquest of England, William instituted a feudal system in the country, whereby all estates formally belonged to the king, who appointed lords over vast estates, subject to duties and obligations (financial and knights) to the king. Under the lords were further subjects such as serfs, which were bound and obligated to their lords. Merchants had a special status in the system as did Jews. Jews were declared to be direct subjects of the King, unlike the rest of the population. This had advantages for Jews, in that they were not tied to any particular lord, but were subject to the whims of the king. Every successive King formally reviewed a royal charter granting Jews the right to remain in England. Jews did not enjoy any of the guarantees of Magna Carta of 1215.

"Economically, Jews played a key role in the country. The church at the time strictly forbade usury, or the lending of money for profit. This left a hole in the heart of the European economy that Jews quickly filled (canon law was not considered to apply to Jews, and Judaism permits loans with interest between Jews and non-Jews).  As a consequence, some Jews made large amounts of money. However, taking advantage of their unique status as his direct subjects, the King could expropriate Jewish assets in the form of taxation. He levied heavy taxes on Jews at will without having to summon Parliament.  The Jewish community acted as a kind of giant monetary filter: Jews collected interest on money loaned to the people which the King could take at his pleasure.

"Jews acquired a reputation as extortionate money lenders which made them extremely unpopular with both the Church and the general public. While antisemitism was widespread in Europe, medieval England was particularly antisemitic. An image of the Jew as a diabolical figure who hated Christ started to become widespread, and antisemitic myths such as the Wandering Jew and ritual murders originated and spread throughout England; as well as Scotland and Wales.  Jews were said to hunt for children to murder before Passover so they could use their blood to make matzah. Antisemitism on a number of occasions sparked riots where many Jews were murdered, most famously in 1190 when over a hundred Jews were massacred in the city of York.

"The situation only got worse for Jews as the 13th century progressed. In 1218, England became the first European nation to require Jews to wear a marking badge. Taxation grew increasingly intense. Between 1219 and 1272, 49 levies were imposed on Jews for a total of 200,000 marks, a huge amount of money.  The first major step towards expulsion took place in 1275, with the Statute of Jewry. The statute outlawed all usury and gave Jews fifteen years to readjust. However, guilds as well as popular prejudice made Jewish movement into mercantile or agricultural pursuits almost impossible.

"While in Gascony in 1287, Edward ordered English Jews expelled. All their property was seized by the crown and all outstanding debts payable to Jews were transferred to the King’s name. It was a bleak sign of things to come. Edward’s personal views on Jews are something of a mystery. In the glimpses we have of his dealings with them, he seems interested but unsympathetic. His mother, however, does seem to have been anti-semitic. Whatever his personal feelings, by the time he returned to England in 1289 Edward was deeply in debt. The next summer he summoned his knights to impose a steep tax. To make the tax more palatable, Edward in exchange essentially offered to expel all Jews. The heavy tax was passed, and three days later, on July 18, the Edict of Expulsion was issued. One official reason for the expulsion was that Jews had neglected to follow the Statute of Jewry. The edict of expulsion was widely popular and met with little resistance, and the expulsion was quickly carried out.

"The Jewish population in England at the time was relatively small. While population estimates vary, probably less than 1% of England was Jewish; perhaps 3,000 people.  The expulsion process went fairly smoothly, although there were a few horrific stories. One story told of a captain taking a ship full of Jews to the Thames while the tide was going out and convincing them to go out for a walk with him. He then lost them and made it back to his ship before the tide came back in, leaving them all to drown. Other stories exist of Jews being robbed or killed, but the majority of the Jews seem to have crossed the channel in safety" (Wikipedia article on Edict of Expulsion, accessed 02-15-2009).

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Organization of the Sorbonne Library, and the Way it Was Physically Arranged 1290

"We have seen that the first catalog of the college [The Sorbonne] was classified; the text of the 1290 catalog provides a full view of this classification system. It was a system common to the intellectual world of the thirteenth century, namely, the Scriptures, glossed and postillated books; Peter Lombard's Sentences, and questions and summas on the Sentences, whole works on the saints and doctors of the Church; questions and distinctions of the master; and whole works of the ancient philosophers, followed by works outside the realm of theology and philosophy — medicine, the quadrivium, jurisprudence and perhaps vernacular writings. In this scheme, constructed for theologians, the works are arranged in descending order of their relative authority: Holy scripture, Doctors of the Church, modern masters, and ancient philosophers. This hierarchy of authority was detailed for example by St. Bonaventure: 'Sunt ergo libri sunt sacrae scripturae. . .; secundi libri sunt orignalia sanctorum, tertii, sententiae magistrorum, quarti, doctrinarum mundialium sive philosophorum.' It was only natural that this hierarchy also appeared in the organization of medieval book collections such as that at the Sorbonne.

"It has been suggested, furthermore, on the basis of the first catalog, that the books were grouped by subject and author in armaria similar to those described by Humbert of Romans ca. 1270, and that the classification of the catalog is a reflection of this arrangement. It is impossible, however, to judge on the basis of the catalog alone whether or not it reflects the physical arrrangement of the books themselves. We are fortunate in this instance to have collateral evidence which reveals the arrangement of certain books in the library just after the turn of the century.

"In 1306, Thomas Hibernicus, a fellow of the Sorbonne, unintentionally but effectively preserved a picture of the arrangement of the manuscripts of the major authors in the armaria, in the process of completing his Manipulus florum. This is a collection of extracts from the authorities grouped according to some 265 topics alphabetically arranged— abstinencia, abusio, acceptio, accidia, adiutorium, etc. Under some 265 topics the extracts appear in a set order without significant variation: quotations from Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory, Bernard, Hilary, Chrysostom, Isidore, and so on, concluding with the ancients. At the end of the Manipulus florum Thomas has appended a bibliography of 476 works, each with incipit and explicit, compiled from the Sorbonne's manuscripts. The authors in the bibliography are presented in virtually the same order as the extracts, works of Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, etc. The order preserved here, the order in which Thomas used the books, is apparently that of the grouping of the books in the armaria of the library. The order is virtually the same as the order of authors in the catalogs of 1290 and 1338, originalia Augustine, Ambrosii, Hieronimi, Gregorii, Bernardi, etc. The combined evidence of the 1290 catalog and the Manipulus florum certainly implies, if does not prove, that the organization of the catalog reflects the physical arrangement of the manuscripts in armaria" (Rouse & Rouse, "The Early Library of the Sorbonne," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 370-72).

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The First European Patrons of the Art of Printing? 1294

John of Monte Corvino.

In 1294 John of Monte Corvino, the first missionary sent by the Pope to China, arrived in Cambaluc [medieval term for Peking] soon after Marco Polo left for Europe. John remained at Cambaluc, as head of the mission until his death in 1328. This mission became the base for other Catholic missionary work in China.

"These missionaries, spending their lives in China, learning the language and mingling with the people, must have come in contact with printed literature at every turn. John of Monte Corvino in the first dozen years of his work, even before reinforcements had arrived, had already translated the New Testament and Psalter, and prepared pictures and text for the ignorant at just the time when in China it was the natural thing to have every important literary work printed. There is no question that the Chinese who were associated in the work of translation would have suggested that the translation and the pictures should be brought before the public in what to them was the usual and natural way. Whether the missionaries agreed and thus became the first European patrons of the art of printing, we have no means of knowing. That religious image prints, prepared, like the pictures of John of Monte Corvino, 'for the ignorant,' began to appear in Europe some time within the half century after these early missionaries laid down their work, may not be altogether a coincidence" (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed [1955] 161-62.)

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A Clear Record of Early Block Printing in Tabriz 1294

Tabriz, Iran, as seen through Google Earth. (View Larger)

"Tabriz is the only place in the Islamic world where there is a clear record of early block printing. In the year 1294 at this Mongol capital of Persia there was an issue of paper money with text in Chinese and Arabic.. . . . The notes. . .were direct copies of Kublai's, even the Chinese character being imitated as part of the device upon them. . .There was an Arabic inscription on each note to the effect that the notes were issued in the year 693 of the Moslem era (A.D. 1294), that all who issued false notes should be summarily punished, and that 'when these auspicious notes were put in circulation, poverty would vanish, provisions become cheap, and rich and poor be equal.' The prophecy was not fulfilled. After the constrained use of the new ch-ao for two or three days, Tabriz was in an uproar; the markets were closed; Izzudin, the minister who had proposed the issue, became the object of intense hatred and according to some accounts was murdered; and the whole project had to be abandoned.

"This dramatic issue of a printing project a century and a half before Gutenberg in a great comsopolitan community near the confines of Europe could have not gone unobserved in the commercial republics of Italy" (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed [1955] 170-71).

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Llull's Tree of Knowledge September 29, 1295 – April 1, 1296

Detail of image "Arbor Vegetalis" from Llull's Arbor scientiae.  Please click to view larger image.

Detail of title page of Llull's Arbor scientiae.  Please click to view larger image.

Ramon Llull.

Between September 29, 1295 and April 1, 1296 Majorcan writer, philosopher, logician and polymath Ramon Llull published Arbor scientiae. This encyclopedia and pioneering work in knowledge representation included sixteen trees of scientific domains following the initial tree called the arbor scientiae.

"An expression of his [Llull's] mystical universalism, this encyclopedic work concentrates on the central image of a tree of science, able to sustain areas of knowledge. Appearing the very beginning of the book, the illustration of the tree of science works as an introduction to his beguiling concept and a sort of arborescent table of contents. This great tree comprises eighteen roots, which relate to nine transcendent principles (not detailed) and nine art principles: difference, concord, contrareity, beginning, middle, end, majority, equality, and minority. The top of the tree is made of sixteen branches, each bearing a fruit and a label, representing the different domains of science, which are then depicted as individual trees in the remaining pages of the work.

"The first set of trees related to profane knowledge. . . .The second group covers the entirety of religious knowledge. . . ."  (Lima, Visual Complexity. Mapping Patterns of Information [2011] 31-35).

None of Llull's books appear to have been published in print in the fifteenth century. Editions of the Arbor scientiae, with their famous woodcut renditions of Llull's trees of knowledge began to appear early in the sixteenth century, of which an edition printed in Lyon, 1535 was available through Google Books in January 2013.

Dictionary of Scientific Biography VIII (1973) 547-550.

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The Lure and Romance of Travel to the East 1298 – 1299

Folio 54r from a facsimile of 'Le divisament dou monde,' preserved at the University of Graz, in Germany. (View Larger)

While in prison in Genoa from 1298 to 1299 Marco Polo supposedly dictated a book to a romance writer, Rustichello da Pisa. His work, which was very frequently copied, was a rare popular success in the period before printing. 

"The impact of Polo's book on cartography was delayed: the first map in which some names mentioned by Polo appear was in the Catalan Atlas of Charles V (1375), which included thirty names in China and a number of other Asian toponyms. In the mid-fifteenth century the cartographer of Murano, Fra Mauro, meticulously included all of Polo's toponyms in his map of the world. Marco Polo's description of the Far East and its riches inspired Christopher Columbus's decision to try to reach Asia by sea, in a westward route. A heavily annotated copy of Polo's book was among the belongings of Columbus. Polo's writings included descriptions of cannibals and spice growers" (Wikipedia article on The Travels of Marco Polo, accessed 04-04-2010).

"His book, Il Milione (the title comes from either 'The Million', then considered a gigantic number, or from Polo's family nickname Emilione), was written in the Old French and entitled Le divisament dou monde ('The description of the world'). The book was soon translated into many European languages and is known in English as The Travels of Marco Polo. The original is lost, and we have several often-conflicting versions of the translations. The book became an instant success — quite an achievement in a time when printing was not known in Europe."

Christopher Columbus's annotated copy of 'Il Milione.' (View Larger)

"An authoritative version of Marco Polo's book does not exist, and the early manuscripts differ significantly. The published versions of his book either rely on single scripts, blend multiple versions together or add notes to clarify, for example in the English translation by Henry Yule. Another English translation by A.C. Moule and Paul Pelliot, published in 1938, is based on the Latin manuscript which was found in the library of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1932, and is 50% longer than other versions. Approximately 150 variants in various languages are known to exist, and without the availability of a printing press many errors were made during copying and translation, resulting in many discrepancies" (Wikipedia article on Marco Polo, accessed 01-29-2010).

Marco Polo's work was first published in print in a German translation issued by printer Friedrich Creussner of Nuremberg in 1475 under the title of Hie hebt sich an das puch des edeln Ritters vnd landtfarers Marcho Polo, in dem er schreibt die grossen wunderlichen ding dieser welt Übers. aus dem Ital ISTC No.: ip00901000. A Latin edition followed in 1483-84. Two editions in Italian appeared in 1496 and 1500. In December 2012 a digital facsimile of the first German edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link. The title page consists of a full-page woodcut surrounded by the verbose title.

♦ From the standpoint of printing before its invention in the West, Polo's work contained the earliest detailed account of Chinese printed paper money that was widely available in Europe. It was through Polo's account, and possibly by seeing actual examples of Chinese paper money, that Europeans may have first learned about printing. Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed (1955) 109-11.

In spite of its wide fame, recent scholars question whether Marco Polo actually went to China.

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The European Table Abacus Circa 1299

A woodblock from Gregor Reisch's Margarita Philosophoca, 1508, depicting a table abacus. (View Larger)

The European table abacus or reckoning table became standardized to some extent by the end of the 13th century. The pebbles previously used as counters were replaced by specially minted coin-like objects that were cast, thrown, or pushed on the abacus table. They were called jetons from jeter (to throw) in France, and werpgeld for “thrown money” in Holland.

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The Planudean Anthology as Basis for the Anthologia Graeca 1299 – 1301

Between 1299 and 1301 Byzantine Greek grammarian, theologian, translator, and classical scholar at Constantinople Maximus Planudes prepared a compilation that became the basis for the Anthologia Graeca, or Greek Anthology. Planudes used for the purpose three lost manuscripts: two of collections similar to the Palatine Anthology possibly compiled by Constantine the Rhodian, and a third which was an abridged version of the collection made by Byzantine schoolmaster Constantine Cephalas circa 900, on which the Palatine Anthology was based.

"Planudes both rejected many poems and, making skillful use of his metrical knowledge, 'emended' others to reflect contemporary propriety. The Planudean Anthnology is divided into seven books - epideictic, satiric, funerary, ekphrastic epigrams. Each book is subdivided, poems on each theme being arranged alphabetically. Planudes' autograph manuscript (Venice, Bibliotheca Nazionale Marciana, Marc. gr. 481) is dated 1301 (or 1299) and there survive also a preliminary and an incomplete final revision done under the compiler's supervision. The 388 poems unqiue to this compilation, usually collectively called the Planudean Appendix or, incorrectly, book 16 of the Palatine Anthology, are mainly epigrams about or imaginarily inscribed upon statues and paintings" (A. R. Littlewood, article on Anthology, Greek in Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece (2006).

The Anthologia Graeca Planudea was first published in print by Laurentius (Francisci) de Alopa, Venetus, in Florence on August 11, 1494. The earliest copies of the edition contain, as the final quire, a verse epilogue and dedication to Piero de' Medici, then leader of Florence, by its editor, Greek scholar Janus Lascaris. This dedication was suppressed in the second issue later in 1494, presumably after Piero's proscription and flight from Florence, along with the rest of the Medici family. (ISTC No. ia00765000). Lascaris's edition was the version by which the work was known in Western Europe until the Palatine Anthology was published in print by French classical scholar Richard François Philippe Brunck in his Anthologia Graeca or Analecta veterum Poetarum Graecorum 3 vols., (1772–1776).

(This entry was last revised on 04-26-2014.)

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